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Episode 20: THE HANDPRINT FROM THE BATHHOUSE (ONNA BURO IHEN, NAZO NO TEGATA) *****
Directed by Ota Akikazu Two Iga are attacked in the night by the Negoro clan, but kill themselves before revealing the location of the Shadow Warriors. Later, the same killers capture Oyoshi, a prostitute who is also an Iga agent. Preferring not to kill a woman, the leader wishes for her to unveil the Shadow Warriors hideout. Like the others, Oyoshi kills herself. However, the mysterious Negoro group plan to use her corpse as a decoy. Hayate Kid watches from the trees and ends up fighting with the killers. He escapes to report back to Yamabiko. Meanwhile, doctor Gennai is reading Orin's palm. Curious about her love life, she is interested if Shin will be her lover. He lets her know that he "has no such intentions." She leaves angered. Hayate Kid arrives and tells of the incident in the woods. Orin returns and tries to coax Hayate into becoming a bathhouse boy by examining his body from head to toe. Otoki is greeted with an arrow that narrowly misses her. A message is affixed to the weapon detailing the location of Oyoshi's body. Having not known she was a prostitute, Ryukichi wishes to bury her, but Shin refuses stating that, "We ninja have no graves!" His only cousin, Ryukichi finds it hard to deal with his grief. Disobeying yet again, Ryukichi heads into Crows Woods to give his cousin's corpse a proper burial. The trap sprung, the gang watches nearby. The next day, Orin and Okei have a conversation about men. She divulges to Orin that she's going about it the wrong way. If she wants to snag Shinpachi as her husband, she should show affection for another man which is supposed to make Shin jealous. At that time, a man named Yakichi enters the bathhouse looking for work per the sign outside. Okei tells Orin that this man would be opportune for her plan in making Shin jealous. Examining the weapon Hayate Kid brought to him from his fight the previous night, Shin figures the Negoro of Kishu are responsible. He sends Tsurozu to investigate. Later in the afternoon, Shin and doctor Gennai are fishing when Orin brings Yakichi by to introduce him. Gennai, of course, is on to her scheme. During a busy day at the bathhouse, a drunk man enters and Yakichi begins to beat them up. However, when Shin enters the room, Yakichi feigns knowing how to defend himself and allows the drunks to get the better of him. Shin is on to the mysterious Yakichi. That night while enjoying a dinner, Orin becomes drunk and calls for Shinpachi to join them in their meal. In her drunken state, Orin makes mention of a basement which stirs Yakichi's interest. The next day, Tsurozu returns with information regarding the Negoro. Their clan leader, Yatoji, as well as ten clan members were away. Shinpachi surmises they are in Edo and know the Shadow Warriors are hiding in Yamabiko. Meanwhile, Orin recovers from her night of drinking. Yakichi is by her side and pledges his love for her. Taking her by the hand, he asks for her hand in marriage. Suddenly, her headache is gone. But then, Yakichi begins asking questions about Shinpachi and his friends. It is now known that he is Yatoji, the leader of the Negoro. That night, an emissary of O'oka, Ide-dono, visits Yakichi (Yatoji) and discuss the Shadow Warriors. Yatoji asks that once he and his men quell the Iga threat, that the Negoro are made Shogunate guards. Late that night, a Negoro agent penetrate Yamabiko and search its basement. Ryukichi is there and battles the invading Negoro warrior. He is captured and he and Shinpachi interrogate the man. Knowing that the Negoro desire more than just Shin's head, the Iga bide their time till the others decide to force their hand. The next day, Orin goes to Gennai to tell him his prediction came true and that she is to marry Yakichi. Meanwhile, Yakichi (Yatoji) happens upon Shinpachi fishing on the pier. Both know who the other really is by this point. Ryukichi appears and details to Shin that the captured Negoro has managed to successfully kill himself. Assured the Negoro seek the copy of the pact he has in his possession, Shin believes the Negoro won't attack till they know that he in fact carries the list. At that time, Orin asks for Shinpachi to see her. Upon meeting with her, she says she is going to marry Yakichi. Of all times, Shin has a look of concern on his face. He tells her she should most definitely think this over. He leaves and Okei appears from behind a bush overjoyed that Orin's plan to make Shin jealous has worked. Meanwhile, the younger Iga follow close behind Yatoji. He meets with his group and tells them that once they eradicate the Shadow Warriors, the Negoro will replace the Koga as Shogunate guardians. But first, they must obtain the copy of the pact. Later, Shin asks Otoki to tail Orin since the Negoro are using her to get to the Iga. Meantime, Yatoji makes a handprint and asks Orin to give it to Shinpachi. Ignorant to what it means, Orin thinks it has to do with Gennai's palm reading skills. Shin and Ryukichi match this new print with the copy they have. Asking why Yatoji would do such a thing, Shin says, "If we unmask him, he'll know the pact is here." Otoki returns with a note from Yatoji that states, "If you want to save Orin, bring the pact to Crows Woods." Now is the time for the Shadow Warriors to strike. That night, Orin is taken away and tied up with ropes. Yatoji explains to her that she "will die as crow bait, without knowing why." She is then blindfolded and Yatoji continues, "Orin, crows attack the eyes first. Yakichi's kindness provided the blindfold." As Orin is lifted into the air, Yatoji gives orders to kill her when the Iga arrive. Noticing the Negoro hiding in the trees. Shin has a back up plan-- the Hayate Kid. Saving Orin from the clutches of the Negoro, the Shadow Warriors battle the ten members to the death. Some time after, Gennai and Shin talk about how depressed Orin has been since Yakichi (Yatoji) betrayed her. Shin gives her some sake and she cries before bringing the cup to her lips. She calls herself a fool and a laughing stock. She looks to Shin and says, "Shin-san, aren't you laughing, too?!" He replies that she is wrong, and that because she loved the man deeply, "No one laughs at a person's true feelings." She then asks about the man that rescued her from certain death, "...he was so terrific!" Shinpachi asks if she got a look of this man's face, to which her answer is 'no'. Happy that she didn't gaze upon her savior, Orin beckons Shin to "Stop being so jealous. You should show your stuff sometime...."Shin agrees with her muttering a limp 'Hai'. She then commands sternly, "Not haiiii...hai!! HAI!" Action drama specialist Ota Akikazu returns to present one of the best shows of KAGE 2. It is here that the Shadow Warriors hideout is discovered and is a turning point in the series. Here, at episode 19, the time draws near and the Iga get closer to their goal. The enemies get tougher and the Negoro are one of the most formidable groups they have yet faced. Amidst all this, program 19 belongs to Orin's character and her continuing journey to make Shinpachi her lover. Her plan to make him jealous by pretending to fall for another man proves near fatal. Not only that, but she begins to have feelings for this man whom is only interested in getting close to the Iga. What's ironic, is that once Shin knows who Orin's faux suitor is, she mistakes his concern for her life for actual jealousy. The ending is a true 'Superman' moment when Shin asks Orin if she got a good look at the face of the man that saved her. She talks of how wonderful he was and that Shin should be more of a man like that. One of the best sequences has both Shinpachi and Yatoji fishing together. Both men know who the other is and their thoughts are conveyed through voiceover. If Ryukichi hadn't appeared, it would seem the two would have eventually fought right there. This is an all around excellent episode filled with lots of suspense and some funny moments courtesy of comedienne, Kiki Kirin. A great program that will please the action crowd and those that want some character interplay to hold their attention. Continued in Episode Twenty-One: THE GIRL WITH THE JAMISEN!!!
Episode 19: THE GREAT PURSUIT (DAI TSUISEKI! YUKI WA SHITTEITA) ***
Directed by Makiguchi Yuji Shinpachi finds Misato kneeling inside an Iga graveyard. She explains to him that having become blind, she sees things in a different light. She leaves but is attacked by the Shiina group, the band of fighters she used to lead. Surrounding her, Gensai orders the young Seishiro to kill her. He hesitates to strike which prompts the others to do so. Misato fights them off until Shinpachi emerges on his horse and saves her. Later, a mysterious young girl is seen just outside of O'oka's mansion. At Yamabiko, the young lady wishes to see Shinpachi. Her name is Oryo, Shin's sister. Having not seen her in over 10 years, Oryo pleads with Shin to let her join the Iga clan. Shin tries to allay her desire to become a ninja by explaining that even Tsuge Shinpachi was killed in a Shogunate raid and that he is only a lowly restaurant owner. Oryo knows better and details the tragedy that has struck her home town of Tokakushi. Her foster father, Yoshinaka, was murdered by Moroguchi Dogen, alias, "Spider" Dogen. To add to the tragedy, O'oka confiscated the silver mines in Tokakushi. Oryo attempts to break into O'oka's mansion alone. She engages "Spider" Dogen in a brief fight. Koroku has followed her, though. Meanwhile, Gensai has Seishiro in chains. He is to be put to death for allowing Misato to escape. However, Dogen has other plans. Chaining Oryo and Seishiro together, they are to fight to the death, the winner goes free. Koroku interrupts the duel allowing both chained prisoners to escape. Seishiro and Oryo make their way through the blinding snow regions of the Tokakushi mountains with Dogen and the Shiina in pursuit. The two find shelter in the home of a family, but the warmth is short-lived as they are set upon by Dogen. After seemingly running for miles, Seishiro finds it difficult to continue. At the same time, Ryukichi and Koroku, against Shin's orders, have picked up their tracks. Koroku finds a trail of Azuki beans that Seishiro has been dropping along behind him. Their suspicions are raised. They find the home of the family Oryo and Seishiro had encountered. They were all murdered by "Spider" Dogen. Meantime, Seishiro begs Oryo to sever his hand so she can escape. She refuses and tries to get him to continue through the ever increasing bitterness of the freezing cold. They are suddenly attacked by a bear which they dispatch with their katanas and also take some nourishment from the dead animal. Ryukichi and Koroku find the remains of the animal but also the Shiina as well. A great chase down a mountainside ensues. Suddenly, Shinpachi shows up and rescues his two disciples. He's not pleased when he catches up to them. Still refusing to aid his sister, Shin explains how so few Iga remain alive. "You are all very precious to me", he says. That night, Oryo builds a fire inside a small hut for the two of them to warm themselves. Seishiro again tries to cut his hand off for Oryo to escape. Unable to withhold the truth any longer, Seishiro tells Oryo that the two of them being chained together and escaping into the mountains has all been an elaborate plan to lure Shinpachi and the Iga out. He also tells her that he'd been dropping the beans for Dogen and the others to find. By bringing Shinpachi to the Koga clan, Seishiro's life will be spared. Realizing the two evidently have feelings for each other, Seishiro states, "Tenderness means death to a ninja." The next day, the chase continues. Dogen and the Shiina, assuming Shin is watching nearby, corner the young couple and plan to kill them both. Oryo is injured and Seishiro fights madly to protect her. Shinpachi then rides on the scene and uses some ninja trickery to rescue the two young ninjas. Koroku and Ryukichi battle the Shiina warriors to the death. Shinpachi returns to combat "Spider" Dogen. After the fight is over, Oryo and Seishiro leave into the hills together. Not knowing where they are going, Shin says, "They are bound by a chain no one can see."The three Iga head back to Yamabiko, another of O'oka's 26 having been vanquished. Director Yuji returns for this somewhat lackluster episode after delivering two of the best in this second series with episode 7's 'Attack of the Scorpion and episode 12's 'Catch That Girl!' It is an interesting concept having an episode built around one long chase and the location shooting in the snow drenched mountains of Tokakushi helps a lot, but this is an overall kitschy piece albeit one of the most entertaining shows of series two. What really hurts this one is the appearance of what has to be the fakest looking bear in moving pictures ever. I initially assumed it was a costume being worn by one of the main cast members as a disguise, but it is supposed to be a bear that attacks the two chained escapees. Looking more like a gigantic wolf than a bear, it pales in comparison to the superior bear suit used in KARATE BEARFIGHTER (1977). Also the ninjas on ski's are an odd sight especially when they do aerial flips on the slopes. The story conceit of Shinpachi as a father figure to the younger Iga followers is seen here as he scolds two of his disciples for disobeying him going so far as to state how precious they are to him and that he cannot allow them to die for nothing. Much of the cast are absent here. Doctor Gennai, Gohei, Tsurozu, Otoki, Hayate Kid and Orin are nowhere to be found. No comedy at all save for the unintentional comedy mentioned above. Those with shorter attention spans will most likely lap this episode up as this show has possibly the least amount of dialog of all of series two. Definitely not the best of KAGE 2, it nonetheless moves at a fast clip and delivers quite a lot of action. More akin to Ikuo Sekimoto's style, 'The Great Pursuit' is recommended for action fans but those seeking more story would do better to skip this one. Continued in Episode Twenty: THE HANDPRINT FROM THE BATHHOUSE!!!
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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.