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Episode 16: THE QUEEN BEE STRIKES TWICE (MESUBACHI WA NIDO SASU!) ****1/2
Directed by Ota Akikazu Some ruffians plan to kidnap Shota, the little boy taken in by the Shadow Warriors. Instead, they mistakenly steal away Shota's friend, Tamekichi (Ta-boy). Shota says they left in an elaborate palanquin, the kind used by a Daimyo ("great name"; a powerful samurai lord). The Shadow Warriors meet to discuss the situation. Shinpachi thinks the Sanada Clan wants him back. However, Otoki doesn't think so as the Clan has no way of knowing where they are. Remembering that they killed the Sanada Clan Councillor, Takanuki, one of the 26 conspirators, the possibility of a plot to overtake the Sanada Clan is presumed. Otoki and Ryukichi are ordered to watch Sanada Castle for any information. Meanwhile at Sanada Castle, the sick lord Sanada asks for his heir, Shota to be present. Clan Councillor Konuma Tatewaki pleads for more time in which to find him. Spying on Sanada Castle, Otoki overhears the Lady of the Sanada Clan and Edo Advisor Mochizuki Ryonoshin discussing their villainous plan to kill Shota. As it so happens, the Lady Daimyo is secretly pregnant with Mochizuki's child. Through an elaborate scheme involving other parties, the two plan to use their child as the heir to the Sanada family. "Thistle" Osen enters the room where Tamekichi is being held. He declares he is not Shota and wants to go home. Osen opens his clothes and checks for a known birthmark. The boy doesn't have it. Osen decides to use Tamekichi as bait to lure Shota to them. Later that evening, Orin shows up at Yamabiko dressed up in an attempt to seduce Shinpachi. He summoned her to discuss a matter of importance. Of course, she thinks, or hopes, it will be something romantic but learns he only wanted her to look after Shota who has been disguised as a girl to alter his appearance. For some time, the wicked Osen patronizes Yamabiko in an effort to learn of Shota's whereabouts. Pretending to be drunk, Osen exits the restaurant. Shinpachi follows her but Osen is on to him. The two obviously are wary of the others identity, but skirt around the issue at hand till Osen tires of the wordplay and demands they hand over Shota else Tamekichi will die. An exchange of the two boys is decided upon. Later, Shin meets with the others about rescuing Tamekichi. Thinking Osen to be a leader of thieves or a hired killer by the Sanada Clan, her part in the plot is still a mystery. Shin devises a plan that will allow for both Tamekichi's and Shota's safety to be assured. Shinpachi is captured in the rescue. Osen realizes Shin "...is no ordinary man." He is taken away for interrogation. Meanwhile, Koroku delivers Tamekichi to his mother, Omine and the two engage in a happy reunion. At the same time, Shinpachi is questioned and tortured by Mochizuki, Osen and her followers. Not knowing where the villains have taken Shinpachi, Otoki questions Tamekichi about where he was held in the hope that it will reveal where Shin is being held captive. A type of flower figures into the possible location. Hiraga Gennai is instrumental in finding this flower. Having tortured Shin throughout the night, Osen realizes he is more than a restaurant owner. She divulges that she is soon to be the new Mistress of the Sanada Clan which is why Shota must be out of the way. Osen consults O'oka about killing Shinpachi. He agrees but states that first she must first kill Konuma Tatewaki. As this assassination is put into play, the Iga search the area for blooming Camellia's in an effort to locate the possible hideout where Shin is being kept. Gennai finds Otoki and explains they have been searching for the wrong flower all along; they must find the peony flower, not the camellia. It being early winter, there is a rare seed of peony flower that grows in the winter months. It is soon discovered that the enemy is indeed within Sanada Castle. Mochizuki Ryonoshin brings Councillor Tatewaki to where Shin is being held. He says that this man will reveal Shota's location only to Tatewaki. Mochizuki uses this opportunity as a means to execute Tatewaki or encite him to commit Seppuka by instigating him in a plot to fatten his coffers by secretly holding Shota for ransom. Just as Mochizuki's men move in, the Shadow Warriors appear and Shinpachi stealthily escapes his bonds appearing suddenly in his ninja regalia. The Iga engage the enemy in battle. "Thistle" Osen appears brandishing a gun aimed right at Shin. Her final plan failed, a last revelation unveils Mochizuki and Osen as brother and sister. Osen kills herself and Mochizuki charges Shinpachi who easily dispatches him. Tatewaki gives thanks to the Shadow Warriors but Shin orders, "Councillor, I cannot give my dear Shota to this corrupt Sanada Clan."Tatewaki begs for the return of Shota even going so far as to give his life for the boy. Shinpachi halts him and states that he would be willing to hand Shota over to a Samurai such as himself, but, "...if you ever make Shota unhappy...I will crush the Sanada Clan myself!" Later, Shinpachi attempts to coerce Shota into going back to his family to become a Daimyo. He refuses saying how much he hates Shin for trying to force him to return. He runs off and remembers the good times he has had with Shin and the others of Yamabiko; a place where he was treated like family and to feel that he belonged as well as love he didn't get from Matsushiro, his home. Orin talks to Shota telling him to live there with her and Shin. This revelation prompts Shota to state that he is returning to his home in Matsushiro. Orin asks why now, and Shota tells her, "I would pity Uncle if he had to marry you." Shota rushes back to Yamabiko and proclaims he will return only if he can come back later to visit Shinpachi once he's become a Daimyo. Shin, filled with sadness, watches nearby as Shota is taken back to Matsushiro to meet his destiny as the Sanada Clan leader. Action drama supreme, Ota Akikazu returns again for another top class program in series two of the popular KAGE NO GUNDAN television show. Here, the little boy, Shota, first seen in episode 04: THE MOTHER WHO VANISHED, gets center stage for the second and last time. He has appeared sporadically since his arrival. He goes out in an equally dramatic showing. Episode 04 was also directed by Akikazu and this one is a bit better. There is an abundance of villains in this one and it can be difficult keeping up with everybody as it seems like there's several plots going on at once. "Thistle" Osen is right imposing it's just mildly disappointing she doesn't fight against the Iga opting instead to take her own life. Chiba gets to shine in an unusual way in this episode. Over the course of the series up to this point, he's had to contend with the emotions and actions of the younger Iga warriors. He instills in them that they've given up their life of expressive attachments for the life of a ninja. However, Shinpachi shows here that even he is not exempt from breaking down into tears. Earlier in the series, it was noted that he loved children. That comes into play here during the closing moments of this episode when Shota returns to his clan. Orin is again the butt of jokes in a couple of scenes. One bit, however, has an hilarious exchange from her to Okei. In that scene, Shota (disguised to resemble a girl) runs into the bathhouse and removes the ladies towels. Orin chases him shouting, "That's shameful, little girl!"Okei responds, "No one believes he's a girl." Then Orin retorts with, "I guess not, different equipment." At the end though, there's a rather cruel bit of dialog from Shota to Orin which is mentioned in a paragraph above. It's very jarring that the boy would say such a thing to her but Kiki Kirin's expression displays one of mixed feelings. She seems somewhat pleased, that because of her, Shota will return home, but then she starts to cry upon the realization of Shota's damning comment. This episode is a bit different in that Chiba partakes in the bulk of the final fight. Otoki and Koroku are there, but Chiba gets center stage in vanquishing the villains. Narita Mikio puts in a very brief, off-camera appearance as O'oka. Gennai returns but Gohei is absent this time. Tsuruzo is MIA again. Shiina Misato is absent, too, but returns in a big way in the next episode which is one of the most devastating programs of KAGE 2. Continued in Episode Seventeen: BIRD OF FIRE!!!
Episode 15: A LOVE DOOMED (KOKUI NI KEGASARETA KOI) *****
Directed by Ikuo Sekimoto A group of hooded assassins murder five overseers during the night. Gohei happens upon Overseer Nakayama and takes him to safety at the house of Junior Councillor, Ise-no-kami. He dies from his wounds, but utters, "They've learned...our plan!" before he expires. Ise asks Gohei who he is and initially plans to kill him but relents after asking him to forget everything he has heard. Gohei reports accordingly to the Shadow Warriors. Later, Sir Ise is briefly interrogated by lord Tamba in reference to a rumor that he and Overseer Oyagi are conspiring to unseat O'oka Tadamitsu as Chief Advisor to the Shogun. He denies the rumors but leaves the chamber after a heated argument. The next day, Otoki is performing in the cold, snowy streets. She meets a man named Kawamura Shinjiro and the two become friends. She reminds him of his sister. The following day, Orin wants to know what's going on as everyone is in Yamabiko is in a rush running from one spot the next. Shinpachi details that the Mukai Fencing School is having a feast. Orin wishes to help as well but only if the members are young men. Okei enters dressed beautifully which riles Orin, who rushes her away to be away from the men. Otoki takes more Sake upstairs to the swordsmen's meeting and sees the young man she met in the street is in attendance. The aim of the Mukai School is to purge the world of filth and despair. Kawamura's ideals differ from those of his colleagues. He runs off in disgust. Otoki follows and Kawamura tells her of savagery and violence towards the poor he has seen especially in his home village of Shimokita. He grabs Otoki and rushes her away to show her something...his sister working as a prostitute. She raised him and sold her body to support him. He then asks her, "Otoki-san, do you know how terrible it is to lose your home?" This prompts her to remember the massacre of the Iga village. The two share much in common. Later, Sir Nakaya Bunzo is summoned to the masters chambers of the Mukai School. The master, Mukai Komei, hypnotizes him commanding him to kill Overseer Oyagi that night. The murder is carried out. Again Gohei, this time with Ryukichi, arrive too late. Ryukichi manages to see the hooded men rushing into the Mukai School. Nakaya questions the School's intentions and pays for it. As he leaves, the hooded killers cut him down in the street. Learning of this additional murder, Otoki, Shinpachi, Koroku and Gohei run to see the body. Shinpachi and the others notice Otoki's concern for Kawamura and realize she has feelings for the man. Shinpachi reminds her that ninja have given up their right to happiness. She, of course, ignores this. Otoki meets with him and she relays suspicion of Mukai Komei. Kawamura states that Mukai took him in and was like a father to him. He then gives Otoki something to give to his sister as she will not see him. That evening, Otoki meets with Kawamura's sister, Miyo. She exclaims she has no brother and demands that Otoki leave and never come back again. Late that night Otoki sneaks into the Mukai School and overhears Mukai Komei speaking with a disembodied voice. She learns that Mukai killed Nakaya Bunzo, Kawamura's good friend. She then stealthily enters Yotsuya Mansion, the home of lord Tamba and learns that Ise-no-kami is next to be murdered. Kawamura is selected as the man to carry out the assassination. He is hypnotized as well. Otoki spies the ceremony but is discovered. Asking who she is, the disembodied voice states, "She works for the Iga Phantom!" A wall opens and a hooded man enters. He removes his mask to reveal the visage of servant Shichibei. Mukai Komei declares he is the founder of the Kongo Satta style, and that he is to be obeyed. Shichibei then orders Mukai to kill Otoki. As Mukai draws his blade, Kawamura stops him and says, "Before I kill lord Ise...I would like to slaughter this woman." A quick thinking ruse, Kawamura instead cuts down Mukai Komei, but himself brings down the wrath of the other members. Having tailed her, Koroku appears and the three manage to escape. Lord Ise prepares to leave when he is approached by Tsuge Shinpachi. He tells Ise of the plot to murder him that night. A plan is set in motion by the Shadow Warriors to surprise the insidious Mukai killers. Shinpachi hides within the palanquin supposedly carrying Ise and upon surprising the assassins, the fight begins. Shichibei uses his sorcery to command his followers to attack but they all fall under the blades of the Iga saviors. Lord Tamba tries to escape in the commotion but Gohei stops his retreat killing him in the process. The reformation of the world taught by the evil of the Mukai School, was only a ploy to eliminate all those that would threaten the Dark Shogun's cruel plans. Otoki takes Kawamura Shinjiro to his sister, Miyo's room. On his death bed, she finally accepts him as family; for her shame in selling her body, she could not bring herself to recognize her brother. He requests that she sing the lullaby she used to sing to him as a child. She does and Kawamura slips away peacefully. Otoki and Miyo bury him the following day. Otoki attempts to give her the scarf Kawamura left for his sister. She refuses stating, "You use it. I'm going to Hell, anyway. I don't want to dirty his memory. Keep him safe in your heart." Some time later, the Shadow Warriors talk of Otoki's absence. Suddenly, Orin and Okei appear apparently in a "beauty contest" as to who looks the best. Otoki then passes by and Shinpachi talks with her imparting some words of wisdom when Orin enters in tears proclaiming her sorrow for Otoki's loss. As Orin cries on her scarf, she pauses, the tears suddenly stopped and says, "Hey, will this shrink?" An amazingly poignant episode made all the more startling in that it's directed by the exploitative hand of Ikuo Sekimoto. He goes all out to deliver an emotional and dramatically enhanced show that goes by rather quickly fused together by a bang up fight at the end. Sekimoto handles this episode so well, you have no time to really notice the lack of action till the end. Sekimoto is quickly becoming a "mature" force throughout KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. Not taking anything away from the man, but up until this point, his direction was far less "respectable" than say Ota Akikazu or even the venerable Kinji Fukasaku who started series two off with a bang. There's a familiar story conceit that reappears here; that of a sorcerer that hypnotizes individuals into doing his bidding. This increasingly tired plot point was featured most recently in episode 13: THE TERRIFIED WIFE. Most of the Iga main characters all get their own episodes and Otoki takes center stage here. It's not quite as talky as episode 12: CATCH THAT GIRL!, which had Koroku as the center of attention, it's no less involving. The major difference is that Koroku's show ended on an upbeat note while Otoki's finishes on a sad one. Dr. Gennai is conspicuous in his absence in the only episode so far not to feature him in some capacity. Tsuruzo and Shiina Misato do not feature in this episode, nor does Hayate Kid played by Hiroyuki Sanada. The comedic scenes with Orin follow the usual formula and appear near the beginning and close the episode as they do much of the time. Kiki Kirin continues to be an increasing bright spot on series two with her relentless attempts to snag a man most preferably, Shinpachi. A highly recommended episode and director Sekimoto is becoming one to watch out for. Continued in Episode Sixteen: THE QUEEN BEE STRIKES TWICE!!!
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.