Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 10


Directed by Ikuo Sekimoto

Enjoying a party, Oil Dealer, Mr. Misakiya is told a young beauty has requested to speak with him in private. He is murdered by the woman who appears traumatized after committing the crime. Later, the woman is sentenced to death. In the street, Tsuruzo tells Shinpachi that Misakiya had fallen in love with the geisha, Kimika, the woman who killed him. He had wanted to marry her as she resembled his late wife. However, Kimika was in love with Genshiro, a Hatamoto's (a samurai in the direct service of the Tokugawa shogunate) son. Misakiya eventually had the man killed inciting Kimika to take revenge. Shinpachi and the others decide to go see her die. Orin runs up to Shin and tells him if some woman was to kill him, she'd avenge his death. Shin uses a ploy to escape Orin's clutches once again.

About to die, Kimika looks steadfast into the face of death. Suddenly, her eyes spots a mysterious man. She then becomes overcome with fear and begins crying out for mercy. She is killed anyways. Shinpachi senses something amiss. The scandal involving the late Misakiya and the now dead geisha was so damaging, his Shogunate license was revoked and his store appropriated. The other oil merchants have a meeting to name a new guild director. A newcomer to Edo is decided upon, Mr. Naniwaya Mohei. He is hesitant at first but soon relents. After taking over, the lamp oil supply dropped and the price skyrocketed.

A horny fellow sneaks into the bathhouse dressed as a woman to cop a feel of some naked female flesh. Discovering a man is among them, the angered women accuse Orin of keeping the place too dark. She blames the high priced oil for the lack of light in the establishment; if the women want more light, than she will raise the bath prices, "Dark and cheap or bright and expensive", she says. "Next it'll be soy sauce, then bean paste..." Orin continues with her tirade even going so far as to say a new Shogun is needed. Because of the lack of light, she doesn't realize an officer has just heard her comments. The next day after spending the night in jail, she is taken into the street and given a hundred lashes across her buttocks. The workers of Yamabiko watch and some of them laugh in secret.

Later, Shinpachi and little Shota are out hunting in the woods. They spot a woman unconscious near the river. The woman looks amazingly like the one that was executed the day before. Gennai nurses her back to health. Her name is O-Ito. Sometime that afternoon, little Shota tells Shin the woman has left and gives him a note he found from her before she departed. Meanwhile, the other merchants meet with Naniwaya Mohei about the rising oil prices. Blaming it on poor rapeseed crops, the merchants realize Naniwaya is a swindler out to take the peoples money for all he can. Mr. Joshuya, one of the oil merchants, decides to quit the guild and go out on his own. Naniwaya makes the others forget their troubles by tantalizing them with women. One female in particular captures Naniwaya's attention-- O-Ito, as she is the image of Kimika, the executed woman. That night, Joshuya is killed by an unknown samurai. Tsuruzo and Uta attack him but his skill is great. The two young Iga escape back to Yamabiko. Realizing something is unsolved, Shinpachi asks the others to investigate Misakiya's death yet again despite Otoki and the others claiming the murder was out of revenge.

In the meantime, the devious Naniwaya meets with Tenzen, the samurai that killed Joshuya. Naniwaya feels it to be too much of a coincidence that a woman that is a dead ringer for Kimika and two ninja should show up at the same time. However, he isn't worried in the slightest. The following day, Tenzen has O-Ito entertain him. He reveals he was intimate with Kimika prior to her execution. He finds her similarities to his dead lover to be striking. He mentions a twin sister but O-Ito just laughs at his accusation. She is, in fact, Kimika's twin sister. Shinpachi runs into her one day and decides to trail her to find out her connection with the dead woman. O-Ito goes to visit the best friend of her sister, Oyuu. She asks her questions about Genshiro and what he looks like. From the various people she speaks with, they all say Genshiro is dead and that Kimika had identified his body herself when his corpse was pulled from the river. One discernable factor is that the man called Genshiro had a scar across his back.

The Iga all meet and come up empty handed in regards to the identity of Genshiro. Shinpachi has already come to the conclusion that Genshiro is not dead and probably never existed. The real Genshiro is actually somebody else who used Kimika to murder Misakiya. That evening, O-Ito tries to seduce Tenzen into a bathtub. She manages to get him undressed and sees a large scar on his back. He gets close to her in the tub and is no longer so lustful. She later visits her sisters grave Camellia flowers in hand to pronounce that she has located the man who had tricked her into committing murder. Shinpachi watches close by and reveals that he knows everything. He says there is something much bigger going on regarding the oil but yet O-Ito desires to kill her sisters murderer with her own hands.

Another meeting with Naniwaya reveals his connections with O'oka Tadamitsu. Naniwaya orders Tenzen to kill O-Ito tonight as well as deal with the Shadow Warriors. Tsuruzo sneaks inside and hears the plan. Meanwhile, Tenzen meets with O-Ito at the same place and in the rain as Kimika did with Misakiya. They soon share drinks together where O-Ito tells of her plan to kill him. Tenzen discloses that he pretended to be a man named Genshiro and framed Kimika to perform the crime for him. Tenzen stands to strike down O-Ito but stumbles and falls to the ground apparently the victim of poisoning.

O-ito, stunned has no idea what has happened. Suddenly, Naniwaya enters the room. It was he who poisoned Tenzen. He repeats something he had told him earlier, "I eliminate meddlers...that is my way." Wounded by swordsmen, Naniwaya pulls out a gun and shoots Tenzen. The evil Naniwaya prepares to shoot O-Ito in the face when the Shadow Warriors appear just in time to stop her murder and engage his army of swordsmen in battle. Wiping out the bad guys and marking out another of O'oka's loyalists, Shinpachi and little Shota see O-Ito off, her sister avenged.

Back at Yamabiko, Orin is excited that doctor Gennai will be the go-between for her and Shinpachi. Gennai also enlightens Orin on a western lamp which gives twice the brightness with only half the oil. Unamused that she has been fooled again, Gennai convinces her to take the lamp for the bathhouse. The peeping tom from earlier tries once more again dressed as a female. He is spotted much quicker this time and one of the beautiful ladies begs Orin to do something about the lecher. Orin replies, "You wanted it brighter. That's why they peek...dressed like that. Peeping Tom, thanks for your trouble!"

Returning from director duties on episodes two and three, Ikuo Sekimoto fashions a somewhat tiresome programmer that will bore casual fans but will cater to those who enjoy the more talky side of chambara drama. This is a very talky and dialog heavy episode. There is also only one fight which is of course, reserved for the end. Sekimoto does pile on the nudity featuring a cavalcade of naked women on display. He did the same for episode two which mixed nudity and murder in a somewhat uncomfortable manner. His direction on episode three also had a sleazy air about it. Definitely not one of the better directors of KAGE NO GUNDAN 2, but he does know how to deliver some exploitation thrills. Unfortunately, he doesn't deliver much action that most fans want to see.

Nonetheless, the final fight is, as always, well handled and is enhanced by the techno-disco ninja main theme that opens each episode and often accompanies the final fight sequences. Also, the character of Gohei is absent from this episode. Those seeking some ninja thrills would do best to fast forward to the end or skip this one altogether. After the end credits, as always, is a preview of the next episode.

Continued in Episode Eleven: THE SMOKE OF DEATH!!!

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 9


Directed by Ota Akikazu

A Cholera plague sweeps Edo. Two strangers arrive claiming to be from the Koishikawa clinic. Their purpose is to distribute medicine to officials to keep them from catching the sickness. The pills the men take ultimately kill them. The two men leave and the room full of corpses is discovered by Oshino, the wife of one of the dying men. Northside Officer Nose Jinshiro is saved, however. The Iga discuss the situation when a disoriented Orin enters and nearly passes out after not eating or drinking for a couple days due to the contamination. The next day Oshino describes to Shinpachi, Gennai and Gohei the man she saw exiting the house when she found the dead and dying officers.

Later, a singing teacher, Osome, entertains the recovering Nose. You learn that there are some feelings between the two. That night, a mysterious masseur visits Oshino and murders her. The next day, Gennai feels he is to blame for the girls death as he had drawn a detailed picture of the fake doctor based on Oshino's testimony. Nose breaks into a storeroom at night to find proof of the crimes committed by Enshuya Kahei, a man who has evaded the law for a number of years. He controls much of the economy in Edo and his crimes include drugs and contraband goods. Nose demands Enshuya come with him to the authorities, but he informs him of one shocking detail-- Osome, the woman Nose is in love with is actually his daughter. If Nose has him arrested, Osome will die.

That night, Nose confronts Osome about her father. She says he isn't her real dad that she was adopted. Nose vows never to leave her side. Back at Yamabiko, Oharu and her father, Gohei notice a strange lantern lit above the town. A similar kite was seen just moments before the room full of officials were murdered. Oharu and Gohei sense that more deaths are about to take place. The murderous masseur, Magoichi, pays a visit to Nose and Osome. Along with three other killers, they threaten death on Osome lest Nose throw down his sword. He reciprocates but the men then take him down and kill him with a needle. One of the killers tells Osome to state the following morning that Nose has died from the plague. Suddenly, another man enters revealing himself to be Osome's brother, Daizaburo who also happens to be the fake doctor seen at the beginning.

The following day, Shin and the others are shocked to learn of Nose's death. They notice the rather distant and odd behavior afflicting Osome. As they take his body away, Shinpachi notices a swollen purple bruise on Nose's neck. The Shadow Warriors decide to steal Nose's corpse to learn the real reason behind his death. Osome meets with her father to find out why he had Nose killed. The cruel Enshuya says he had sent her to him solely for the purpose of ruining the man and no other reason. He says, "I'll find you another man to replace Nose". The anger over her loss being so strong, Osome tries to kill her adopted father. It doesn't work. Her brother prevents the act.

Screaming to Enshuya that he isn't her father, he orders Daizaburo to punish her by making love to her. Osome struggles to get free. Koroku watches nearby and having seen enough, makes his move but it alarms the other guards. He has to fight his way out to escape. Struck by a shuriken, the villains follow his trail of blood. It is revealed that the diabolical Enshuya is also a member of the Kumano using his guise as a merchant to rebuild the clan by way of his insidious crimes.

Returning to Yamabiko, Shinpachi discovers the villains are the Kumano group, a motley clutch of ninja that Hattori Hanzo had destroyed over 200 years earlier. The Shadow Warriors race to save Osome and annihilate this new order of Kumano killers. Taking his bloody handprint, the Shadow Warriors vanquished Enshuya Kahei, the vile man that held the economy of Edo in his grip and the Kumano group along with him. The plague subdued, Shinpachi and the others along with the grief-stricken Osome have a meal together. Orin enters the room chanting as she was earlier. Asking what she's doing this time, Orin says her chant is to drive men away to protect her virtue. Osome finds humor in this smiling for the first time since Nose's death. The others have a laugh at Orin's expense and even more so when Utanosuke says to her, "Orin-san, your face is the best protection from men!" Uta receives a virtuous slap for his slander.

Director Akikazu returns and redeems himself of the lackluster previous episode. Proving himself a fine director at dramatic and suspenseful works, he succeeds here in his best episode for the series so far. The villains are suitably nasty and some of the most merciless yet seen on the first two seasons. All of them display hauntingly unforgettable faces. The unique faces seen in the super close up shots in the films of Italian director Sergio Leone immediately come to mind. Director Akikazu may have been going for a similar approach here. There are two action scenes, the first coming towards the end. The big battle between the Kumano group and the Iga is one of the best, most intense fight sequences constructed for series two. The bad guys are so despicable, you really want to see them die and I found myself really into this finale.

Kanie Keizo as Nose Jinshiro does an admirable job as the righteous police officer. His performance is one of the best of this series. Keizo builds upon a great character and it comes as a shock when he is brutally murdered by the villains; even more so by the fact that he isn't given a chance to defend himself. Fukuyama Shozo as Enshuya Kahei is the epitome of evil with his fat, indolent face with his lazy features and sinister smile. His voice evokes villainy as well. Easily one of the best bad guys thus far.

Koroku returns for this episode but Shihomi as Shiina Misato is absent once more. The bits with Orin are funny especially the last scene which is surprisingly cruel regarding Orin with the comment Uta makes about her not needing a charm to ward off lustful men. After the end credits, a preview of the next episode concludes the program. Episode nine comes highly recommended.

Continued in Episode Ten: CAMELLIA FROM A GHOST!!!
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