Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 12

Episode 12: CATCH THAT GIRL! (ANO ONNA O NIGASU NA!) ****1/2

Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

Enjoying some sweets from a street vendor, Koroku spies a young lady snatching a man's wallet. He retrieves the stolen item but the girl has friends. Koroku easily overpowers them in a display of skill. The group then enjoys a meal together where the young thieves disclose their names-- White Fox Hanji, Flying Squirrel Omitsu (Hanji's sister), Goblin Minokichi, Red Ox Ushimatsu; all of them are orphans from the Joshu countryside. Hayate Kid is, unsurprisingly, napping in the tree next to them. He shows them how a professional thief does his job. The wallet lifted from Tomoeya Tokubei (the man in the street) contains a handprint on a piece of paper. The handprint of one of O'oka's 26 conspirators.

Later that day, Orin and Okei are enjoying some noodles together when Orin sees a man facing her direction from outside. She of course assumes the man is vying for her attention despite him reading a book. She instigates a meeting with this man by dropping a hairpin. He is looking for the bathhouse, Fujino-Yu having heard he could find Hiraga Gennai there. He tells Orin he was told to "Ask old lady Orin". This doesn't sit well with her and she asks Shinpachi for his opinion on how old she looks...that is if she can detain his attention gaping at the naked women passing by him in the bathhouse. He responds, "It depends on who's looking".

Saike Shuin (the man who met Orin in the street) has his meeting with doctor Gennai over a good meal. Gennai is curious why Saiki is interested in mining techniques. He explains that his school, the Shuin Academy, takes in poor orphans and outcasts in the hopes of turning them into respectable individuals. He can't do this without money and that's where the mining comes in. Returning to Yamabiko with the handprint, the Shadow Warriors match it with the copy they already have in their possession. Whether or not the man Omitsu robbed is one of the 26 is unknown to them at the moment.

At another location, Omitsu runs into Tomoeya, the man whom she stole the wallet. Tomoeya snatches her away to rape her. Luckily, her brother and his friends enter and threaten him. Expecting their trap, he in turn has set a trap for the young thieves. Tomoeya is more concerned by the missing handprint than he is the missing money. While a group of men beat up the three boys, the evil Tomoeya rapes Omitsu.

Hayate Kid shows up in time to stop the beating of Hanji and his friends but not to prevent the rape of Omitsu. Just as Koroku shows up, Hayate Kid makes his exit yet again as quickly as he came. Koroku swears to get revenge on Tomoeya Tokubei for his crime. Koroku attempts to sneak into Tomoeya's home but falls into a trap. Meanwhile Saiku Shuin is having a meeting with the nasty Tomoeya. He says he wants half the gold mined by Saike's men.

It's here you see the first indication Saike isn't as noble as he professes to be. Tomoeya's men enter with the captured Koroku. They prepare to slaughter him when Saike stops the men. He wants the young Iga and agrees to Tomoeya's demands. Saiku frees a stunned Koroku. The teacher asks Koroku to "Come to my school in Shibuya. There are many others like you". The impressionable young ninja agrees and brings along Omitsu and her ragtag band of youthful pickpockets. Koroku tells his less than enthused friends, "Something good is bound to happen!", not yet knowing they are walking into a trap.

Upon reaching Shuin Academy, Saike endears himself on the gullible minds of the young men and women he has cajoled into his presence. The plan is to clear land in the Koshu Mountains for an as yet unknown purpose. Observing Koroku sparring with the other young men of the camp, Saike sends for him to ask for his assistance in an urgent matter. He wants Koroku to murder Tomoeya Tokubei. He seems perplexed at first, but when Saike states, "We fight for justice!", it recalls what Shinpachi and the Iga have stood for since the Dark Shogun tried to have them wiped out. So he goes along with it and carries out the murder without question. At the same time, he has taken revenge for his girlfriend, Omitsu. The sinister Saike watches the deed and rushes over to Tomoeya's corpse and searches his body, but doesn't find what he's looking for.

Later, after learning what Koroku has done, Shinpachi beats him claiming he had not found evidence that Tomoeya was one of O'oka's men. By killing him outright, Koroku spoiled the Iga's plan of uncovering the origin of the handprint. Having broken the Iga code, Shinpachi casts him out. The others beg Shin to reconsider but he refuses. Koroku runs away in shame with Otoki close behind him. She tries to talk him into coming back and apologizing to Shin. He also refuses stating, "I'm sick of orders and codes!!" Already seduced by Saike and his Shuin school, Koroku runs off to rejoin his new friends. Sometime later, Saike meets with Gennai to discuss a possible gold vein running all the way through the Koshu Mountain region and into the Sado region. Gennai suspects Saike is involved in criminal activities. This is confirmed when Uta follows him and listens in on a meeting with Shiina second in command, Anabuki Samon.

Samon says that O'oka is dissatisfied with the Koshu mine due to the inferior quality of gold coming out of it. Saike responds that he may have located another vein...he now has plenty of workers. Upon reaching Shuin Mountain, Koroku and the others make the shocking discovery that their destination is not the paradise promised to them. It's a slavery camp that forces the young people to work in the mines. Koroku attempts to rile the workers into revolting as a means of escape. Some of the guards enter and manage to smooth over the young men by giving them free reign in the women's encampment. Seeing an opportunity to get away, Koroku and Omitsu manage to break out of the camp. They are caught soon after and tortured. Assured of execution the following day, Omitsu and Koroku make love as the sun dips below the mountains.

Meanwhile, the Shadow Warriors are not far behind. Uta and Otoki manage to penetrate the Shuin Mountain camp to free all the young slaves. Uta tells Koroku the plan and that the chief is nearby as well. The band attempt an escape the following morning but are thwarted by Saike and some riflemen. Just as Saike is about to have Koroku shot, the Shadow Warriors show up racing down the Mountainside. They engage the villains in a fight. The captured workers also join in the fracas. The last two miscreants, including Saeki Shuin, are intercepted by Shinpachi. He allows Koroku to slay Saike for revenge.

The battle over, Koroku's newfound friends head back for Joshu. Omitsu says goodbye to him and says she will wait for him in Joshu should he decide one day to go. Seeing Shinpachi and the others approaching over the hill, Koroku begs for punishment. Shin says, "Of course...when we get home...over a drink or two!" Back at Yamabiko, a distraught Orin rushes into the restaurant and heads for the table where Shin, Gohei and Koroku are enjoying a meal. Upset that he had left for a time without telling her, she cries out how lonely she was. He says he had business in Koshu and that there's a shortage of women there-- "Ten men for every woman", a statement that arouses Orin to a fit of heated delight.

Episode twelve is without doubt one of the more talkier episodes in the entire run of KAGE 2. It is also one of the most dramatic and startling shows. It has an enormous amount of underlying meaning geared towards the rebellious youth and the repercussions that result from turning a blind eye to wisdom; instead embracing the folly of power and greed. For the character of Koroku, he is lucky to have such an understanding "father" in Shinpachi, the leader of the Shadow Warriors. Director Yuji also handled the excellent episode seven which featured a number of stand out dramatic moments and character changes. The same applies here with the complexity of Koroku creating a parallel with the younger generation in modern society that speaks just as loudly today as it did back in late 1981 when this show first aired.

Yuji proves himself a most capable director in the same company as fellow KAGE 2 director, Ota Akikazu. Although a talky program, there is a lot of interesting character interplay going on. The final fight is also one of the best of series two and it sees the return of the camoflauge ninja costumes. This is Hikaru Kurosaki's (Koroku) show all the way. The entire episode revolves around him and his struggle to choose sides. He has two "fathers" here, Shin and this new individual who saved his life and promised him dreams of untold happiness free from worry and strife. The parallel between Shin and Saike comes when the cruel Saike asks that Koroku murder Tomoeya for him stating that "We fight for justice", the mantra of the Iga and words heard from Shinpachi's own mouth over the course of the series.

A fascinating episode and a highlight of series two only slightly mired by some rather silly moments of improbability. The comic moments with Kiki Kirin as Orin are, as always, a pleasure to watch. The funniest bit involves Orin trying her best to get Shin to embrace her "youthfulness". And of course, as per most of series two, the show capper features another comedic exchange with Orin. This time, a deceptive line to draw her attentions away from her libidinous desires with Shinpachi. After the credits, the preview for episode 13 promises the return of Misato.

Continued in Episode Thirteen: THE TERRIFIED WIFE!!!

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 11


Directed by Ota Akikazu

Out walking one evening, a woman named Oyoshi is followed by a stranger. She ducks into the bathhouse at Yamabiko. The next day, Orin asks Shinpachi to guard over her but he claims to not have the time but gives her a job in the restaurant. Orin then asks Otoki. Oyoshi divulges that this strange man has been following her for over three days. Otoki reluctantly agrees to stay with her for a time. Later, Gohei finds that the river has been poisoned killing off the fish destroying the local fishing business in Edo. That night, Otoki sees the shadow of a man watching her and Oyoshi. Shinpachi is also secretly about. He passes the masked man on the street and is attacked by him. Using his Iga skill, Shin manages to evade the man.

Soon after, the man attacks a group of guards transporting a large wicker box across the river. The wicker box disappears and those transporting it search into the next day. They run into the masked man again who kills several of the guards. Otoki observes the action nearby. Investigating the magnitude of the poisoned river, Gohei and fisherman, Yomoshichi notice a smoking building off in the distance. He explains it's a tile factory.

Meanwhile, Oyoshi and Otoki are out walking when an older acquiantance of Oyoshi named Obun, a mistress in Edo castle, stops her in the street. Two men notice her and instruct Obun to speak with Oyoshi in private about a business matter. Otoki remains stationary but aware of something suspicious taking place. Obun entices Oyoshi to forget restaurant work and take up duties serving a lord which she asks for more time to make a decision. Oyoshi feels compelled to do as Obun says as she had helped her out several years earlier when her mother was ill. She then mentions her fiance, Murakami Mondo, who disappeared before her mother passed away. Oyoshi hasn't seen or heard from him since. Having been told he was killed while on a trip, Oyoshi had pledged to remain true to the man which contravenes with Obun's plans for her.

Later, Yomoshichi and another man are trawling the river and bring up the large box that had disappeared from the other night. They open it to find many bags of sand. The group of men that were searching for it appear. They attack and kill Yomoshichi and his friend. Gohei arrives too late to stop the villains. The group then attacks Gohei but prove to be no match for the Iga. Meanwhile, Obun brings Oyoshi to Mishima in an effort to goad her into being the mistress of Finance Minister Serizawa. She begrudgingly declines. Obun says that if she refuses, she is to pay her back for the three years she looked after her...with interest. Mishima, in an effort to goad Oyoshi into accepting, states that she need only serve wine to Serizawa and nothing else. It is also revealed that both Mishima and Serizawa are involved in embezzlement of the Shogun's treasury; a plan tied to O'oka himself.

Doctor Gennai inspects the sand brought to him by Gohei. Upon closer examination, the sand is actually gold dust. Later that evening, Obun takes Oyoshi to meet with Serizawa. She serves him wine but he wishes that she drink with him also. Mishima then pours a drink but from a different bottle; one that is obviously drugged. Mishima and Obun leave the room so Serizawa can have his way with the oblivious yet nervous Oyoshi. Now alone with Serizawa, Oyoshi learns that he knew her fiance, Murakami Mondo. He had been a Shogunate Inspector when Serizawa was a Mines Magistrate in Sado. He says Mondo absconded with government funds and vanished never to be heard from again. Feeling the effects of the drug, Serizawa tries to rape her.

Amazingly, the Hayate Kid is in the room and saves her from certain defilement. "You're a crook in flashy clothes...you stink to Hell", he says after removing a small bag from around Serizawa's neck. Hayate Kid fights his way out with Oyoshi and returns her to a waiting Shinpachi. The Kid then takes off. Oyoshi tries to kill herself but Shin stops her. The mysterious stranger watches close by. Shin throws a shuriken removing the mans hat. Oyoshi realizes it's her betrothed lost and presumed dead all these years. She pleads with him to show her his face. Relenting, Oyoshi discovers his face has been badly disfigured. However, this doesn't alter the feelings she's harbored for him since he'd disappeared. A somewhat bitter, but joyful reunion for the two lovers.

The Shadow Warriors meet and study the gold coins that were concealed inside the bag Hayate Kid had stolen. The coins are not pure gold, but counterfeit. The villains are replacing the real gold in the Shogun's treasury with the counterfeit coins. Ryukichi and Gohei are ordered to investigate further. Ryukichi lets himself get captured so as to be taken to the tile factory run by Finance Minister, Serizawa Hyobu. At the same time, Mondo details what happened to him upon his sudden disappearance.

While inspecting a mining operation of Serizawa's, he questions Mishima why gold had been found six months prior but yet it was not mined nor recorded in the company documents. Having uncovered illegal activities, Mondo decides to settle the matter in Edo. Mishima and his men have no intentions of letting him go alive. They trap him within the hut and blow it up. Miraculously, Mondo survived by hiding inside a cellar but didn't escape being burned all over his body. Framed and his house abolished, Mondo could never show himself again. Now, he wishes to avenge himself on those that tried to smear his name.

Mishima and his men show up having heard Mondo and Oyoshi's conversation. They attack and manage to kidnap Oyoshi and seriously wound Mondo. Shadow Warrior Utanosuke appears and steals Mondo away for doctor Gennai to treat him. Ryukichi uses an Iga method to let the others know his location; tied up inside the tile factory which doubles as a front for the counterfeit operations. While Serizawa inspects his felonious operations, the Shadow Warriors converge on the factory to save Oyoshi and destroy O'oka's loyalists.

After the villains are dispatched, Gennai acts as go-between for Mondo and his betrothed, Oyoshi. They will live in Shinshu for the remainder of their days. The final scene has Orin admiring Gennai's facial surgery on Mondo to make him look as he did before his was burned. Enchanted, Orin wants facial surgery as well. She leans over to Shin and says, "What kind of face would you like?" Shinpachi replies with much trepidation, "That face...is most interesting", to which Orin becomes engulfed in tears, Shin's comment having made her overcome with immense joy.

Director extraordinaire, Ota Akikazu returns with another dramatic episode although a slightly lesser affair than his previous work on episode nine. Like a lot of these types of programs, there's very few red herrings so plot points are telegraphed well in advance. Even so, the performances are good and the story doesn't end quite the way you would expect. Koroku is absent and Misato still has yet to return to the show. Otoki gets a bit more to do for a change but the story arc for the character of Murakami Mondo seems to lose focus along the way. He's a very interesting individual before you learn who he is, but once his identity is known, he loses that air of formidableness his character possessed. His skill level also seems to drop. Earlier, while watching over Oyoshi from a distance, he was able to easily cut down anyone that threatened her person. Once the two are reunited, though, his ability to protect and defend himself seems to have been forgotten.

There are a couple more fights in this episode than normal. All of them including the end fight are brief with minimal choreography. Possibly due to the confines of the factory set the Shadow Warriors duel in during the finale, not to mention the overall lack of an equal or superior bad guy. The villains here are all effortlessly dispatched. The comedy scenes with Orin are a delight as usual. One bit has her telling Shin that he will marry her one day. She catches him ogling some of the naked women in the bathhouse resulting in her slapping him to regain his attention.

The last scene features something that doesn't happen again for the remainder of the show-- Shinpachi actually gives Orin a very nice and polite remark despite the apprehension present on his face. Also, there are no disparaging remarks towards her as most of the show cappers often have on KAGE 2. For once, it all ends on a feel good moment for all involved. Not the best from Akikazu, but not the least of his episodes for SHADOW WARRIORS 2.

Continued in Episode Twelve: CATCH THAT GIRL!!!!
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