Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Episode 22: THE DESPERATE GAMBLE (KOGA NINPO HISSATSU NO KAKE) *****
Directed by Kameoka Masato
Former Shiina chief, Misato, now a blind musician, plays her instrument by the river at night and is attacked by a group of killers. She lays waste to them and leaves the area. Some time later, a group of ninjas called the Yashajin gang attack a unit of men carrying carts loaded with 100,000 ryo in government funds. The men are killed and the carts are stolen. A young child, Omiyo, manages to escape. The killers give chase. Misato saves the little girl and cuts down the assailants. Misato finds a single dice under her foot and makes off with the little girl.
Sometime later, Shin and Tsuruzo enjoy a meal together when Orin enters and again tries to entrance Shinpachi with her "Charms". Meanwhile, a group of men are gambling and get into a fight. Hayate Kid ends up in the middle of them spying Misato and the little girl entering town. He follows them to a burial shrine where he converses with Misato. Believing that she is also after the recently stolen funds, Hayate reminds her of the 70,000 ryo that the Shiina had stolen two years prior when she was the Shiina leader. But Hayate is mistaken. Misato is after the culprits that have absconded with the money and killed the little girls father.
Misato goes to a gambling house in Kushu. She attracts the attention of the house owner. Taking in a private game with the man, Misato notices the dice is the same make as the one she found earlier. She wins another round but the owners refuse to cash in her chips. They attack her resulting in her cutting one of the mens arms off. Tatsumiya Yasugoro enters the room and stops any more violence. Tatsumiya asks Misato (calling herself Omisa) to stay as his guest for a while. She accepts for the sole purpose of investigation.
The next day, Shin walks in on doctor Gennai performing an experiment on an animal using shock treatment. He asks Shin to find Misato and bring her to him as he can cure her blindness with his newly created electrical machine. That night, Misato searches a storeroom for the stolen funds. Hayate Kid is also there for the same reason. She tries to deceive Hayate by telling him she is not Misato, but simply a traveling Goze (blind musician). She says she is Tatsumiya's bodyguard and he should leave before she alerts the others. Too late, Tatsumiya's men enter and chase after Hayate. Misato throws something at him which he carries back to Shinpachi.
During his meeting with Shinpachi, he tells him that Misato wishes to die and will most likely do so in her effort to uncover the stolen money. Hayate gives Shin the bell that she threw at him. As Shin swings it to and fro, the other Iga rush into the room. A special "silent" bell, only the Iga can hear it. They then figure that Misato purposely sent the bell Shin's way. Later on, the thugs that robbed the government funds see the little girl, Omiyo, that escaped that time. They grab her but Shin is nearby and whisks her away. The little girl mentions her blind sister.
Shin goes to the gambling house where Misato is secretly working. When he speaks, she knows it's him. The two engage in a game. Shin purposely loses big money to the house. Tatsumiya agrees to lend Shin some chips. Shin then responds, "Will you lend me 100,000 ryo?" He continues to jest with the gangsters all the while swinging the silent bell as he exits the casino.
That night, Shin meets with Misato in a fog enshrouded street. He tries to convince her to come back with him to allow doctor Gennai to cure her blindness. Nonetheless, she wishes to test her skill once more while she is blind. Shin pleads with her to return telling her, "You should be an ordinary woman...I want you to." Touched by his request she replies as to how you can change what you already are in relation to her life altering choice to be a ninja. On his way back to Yamabiko, Shin is attacked by an assassin named Kakei.
Kofu Inspector, Tsutsui Shogen receives an unknown letter stating that the stolen money can be found with Sake Brewer, Tatsumiya. Tsutsui's bodyguard, Kakei goes to Tatsumiya to scold him and his men for lack of security. Turns out the Inspector is in on the robbery as well. Kakei demands that Tatsumiya never mentions the names of O'oka or Sir Tsutsui in relation to the robbery lest they be killed. Misato overhears this conversation and later gives Omiyo a letter to give to Shinpachi the next time she sees him.
Meanwhile, Tatsumiya and his men transport the stolen money to Inspector Tsutsui's lodging. The sound of a Biwa is heard in the background. It is Misato. She attacks the fraudulent Inspector, but before she can move against him, Koga ninjas enter the room encircling her. As the ninjas move in to strike her, at the same time, Shinpachi is reading the letter Omiyo delivered. Inspector Tsutsui takes Misato away to kill her by his own sword but not before she reveals who the Iga was in the gambling house. Meantime, Tsuge Shinpachi makes his way to the Inspector's home alone to rescue Misato.
Fending off multiple attackers by himself, the injured Misato breaks free of her bonds to assist Shin. He is able to kill all the ninjas then squares off against Kakei. Shin defeats him but he is then surrounded by the Inspectors rifle toting guards. Tsutsui fires at Shin, but Misato takes the bullet for him. The riflemen then prepare to kill Shinpachi. At that instant, the other Shadow Warriors arrive and quickly lay waste to the Inspector and his men. Shin rushes to Misato's side. At that moment, she says she can see his face, but it quickly fades. Shin takes her away back to doctor Gennai to cure her. The next day, the Iga arrive back in Edo with Shinpachi carrying Misato on his back. She is alive and greeted by Omiyo.
Kameoka Masato debuts as director in this excellent episode. Yet another classic to also feature former Shiina chief, Misato, this episode perfectly balances suspense, thrills, action and drama to deliver another five star programmer. For possibly the first time in series two, Tsuge Shinpachi is put in genuine peril. He goes after Misato alone and nearly dies but the other Iga show up to save him. The scene where the riflemen surround him and prepare to fire is very gripping.
I can't help but wonder if Misato died in this episode, but fearing audience backlash, shot a happier denouement in which she amazingly survives her sword wounds and a gunshot. The last we see of her is Shin carrying her on his back. The scene prior to this it appeared for all the world that she was dying. This is also the last episode to feature Etsuko Shihomi as Misato which leads me to believe that another ending was indeed shot for this one. Either way, it's still a great ending and the director handles it all marvelously.
Shihomi also gets to play a ZATOICHI type scenario in which she is a blind musician that is also a gambler. She also rescues a little girl and takes her as her own much in the way so many of the ZATOICHI movies featured Katsu's character doing. This episode ends after this scene and there is no last comical moment from Orin. She does have one good bit where she intrudes on Shin and Koroku eating a meal and yet again tries to entice Shin to have his way with her.
Gohei is MIA again, but soon returns for the last three shows. Hayate Kid returns and like most of his appearances, he adds little to the narrative and Sanada's character comes across as little more than a marquee draw considering his popularity at the time in Japan. Definitely one of the best episodes of KAGE NO GUNDAN 2, this one has something for everyone and is a series highpoint.
Continued in Episode Twenty-Three: THE SECRET OF THE WOMEN'S PALACE!!!
Episode 21: THE GIRL WITH THE JAMISEN (YOKEN! JABISEN NO ONNA) ***1/2
Directed by Ota Akikazu
A group of ninjas invade a home but are interrupted by officer, Yabe Kanpei. A little girl is killed amidst their escape. The next day Orin talks with Gennai and Koroku about the recent spate of attacks on various wealthy storekeepers. During the conversation, a girl named Riha enters the restaurant stumbling and very sick. Doctor Gennai takes her into his home to take care of her. She awakens that night and attempts to pay back Gennai's kindness by sleeping with him. Gennai stops her and is privy to the girls ulterior motives. She admits that she has a great favor to ask of him. Someone has shot her father and she needs his help in saving the man. Begging Gennai to save her father, he finally relents to look at the mans injuries.
Checking the mans condition, Gennai realizes the bullet is near his heart. He is apprehensive about performing the surgery. Suddenly, a man named Gekkai enters the room and says that if Gennai doesn't save the chief, then he will die. Gennai tells Gekkai to go to his home to retrieve certain medications. Meanwhile, Orin discusses with Okei about the Red Dragons only attacking the rich. Koroku reads off a Wanted poster to Tsuruzo-- 500 ryo for one Red Dragon and 1,000 ryo for the leader. Orin joins the group and proclaims that they all band together and fight the killers. Orin then says, "Shall we include the cowardly Shin-san?"
Having not seen Gennai in a good while, Tsuruzo and Koroku peek into his home and see Gekkai stealing something. They confront the man but he manages to escape but drops the medicine in his haste. Tsuruzo is injured and a mysterious woman appears. She dresses Tsuruzo's wounds then secretly steals away with the medicine. Finding the girls hairpiece, Shinpachi surmises the girl is a Ryukyu noble (An independent kingdom ruled by an aristocratic family). That night, Gekkai meets with one of O'oka's subordinates to discuss the continued thievery by the Red Dragons to restore the Tamana Clan. The man tells Gekkai that he wants him to kill the Iga Phantom that plagues O'oka Tadamitsu. If he is successful, O'oka will make him a Daimyo and he can then eliminate Genryu as leader of the clan.
Gennai retires to his room while he waits for Genryu to recover. He engages in conversation with Kana, the mysterious woman that Tsuruzo met in the street. She plays the Jamisen for him while he drinks. Gekkai enters Genryu's room and tells Riha, his daughter, that he will kill Gennai as he has seen their faces. However, she says no one will touch him. Genryu awakens and says that Gekkai must kill the doctor for fear that he may go to the authorities. Riha is adamantly against it, though. Her brother shows her a painting of her that the Iga have plastered all over Edo to find her. Gekkai wants her to act as a decoy to lure the Shadow Warriors out into the open. Riha sends Kana on the mission but asks that no harm comes to Gennai for the time being.
Some time later, Tsuruzo happens across Kana playing the Jamisen. Shinpachi tails them both. Meantime, Riha secretly goes to Gennai's room and begs him to leave immediately. If he stays, harm will come to him. He refuses, wishing only to complete his successful surgery on her father. She continues to plead with him to run away but again, he declines. Late that night, Tsuruzo encounters the strange girl, Kana yet again and is caught in a trap. Meanwhile, the Shadow Warriors are on the scene. Shinpachi gives instructions that the others are to wait for Tsuru's signal before they act. Unbeknownst to them, he has been captured and is beaten up.
Koroku, Ryukichi and Otoki notice a boat with O'oka's crest carrying something very heavy. The young Iga warriors destroy the boat but the cash boxes sink to the bottom. At the same time, Kana meets with Riha to discuss their plan to get Gennai away. The doctor is dressing Genryu's wounds when he asks, "You seem to know that I'm the Chief of the Red Dragons." Genryu details his story about his group, the Tamana Clan, being overthrown by the Shimazu and his title as lord of a small castle. The money the Red Dragons steal is to go to the restoration of the Tamana Clan. However, Gennai tells Genryu that if O'oka is behind him, his entire clan will ultimately be betrayed. Gennai then learns that Genryu is one of the 26 loyalists faithful to O'oka's evil scheme.
The young Iga infiltrate the Mansion of the Red Dragons and are quickly attacked by them. Meanwhile in Genryu's room, Gekkai enters and places a sword to Gennai's throat asking that he join him elsewhere. Riha suddenly enters and halts the murder. Gekkai then stabs his sister. Shocked, Genryu demands an explanation. Gekkai states, "Don't we kill all traitors?" Riha asks Gennai to pardon her father for wishing him dead. She then dies in his arms. Genryu, now a broken hearted man at the loss of his daughter, tells Gekkai to let Gennai go free. He then stabs Genryu in the back. Just as he plans to strike Gennai down, Shinpachi shows up to challenge the Tamana usurper. The Shadow Warriors triumphant again, Gennai says that all the Red Dragons have been vanquished enabling Kana to get away peacefully.
The next day Tsuruzo, Otoki, Ryukichi and Koroku search the river bed for the sunken cash boxes. They then see Kana walking the streets and are awe struck by her beauty as she exits Edo. Later, Orin shows up at the bathhouse dressed in warrior attire prepared to fight the Red Dragons. Gennai enters and has a good laugh at her expense and explains that all the villains have been dealt with. The hair ornament Riha gave the doctor falls out of his clothes. Orin picks it up and as usual, thinks it is a gift meant for her. Gennai tries to remove it from Orin's grip, but she says, "Don't be shy. If it weren't for Shin-san, I would fall for you."
Ota Akikazu directs another good episode. Not one of his best, but contains some great dramatic elements such as the young girl who has fallen for Hiraga Gennai after he has saved her father, Genryu, from certain death, despite him being the leader of the Red Dragons. Although the real villain of the piece is not Genryu, but his second in command, Gekkai. Genryu's crime was that he stole from the rich storekeepers for the purpose of restoring his clan, but Gekkai has other plans. The added character of Kana, the exotic looking girl with the Jamisen of the episode title is superfluous and really adds nothing to the plot of this episode. However, Akikazu handles the relationship between the beautiful girl, Riha, her father and doctor Gennai so well, that this is easily overlooked.
Akikazu also successfully creates strong tragedy during the finale. All his episodes generally contain lots of emotion in the main set pieces throughout the 45 minute running time. Kiki Kirin as Orin provides several humorous scenes here such as her proclamation to stamp out the Red Dragon threat going so far as to don feudal attire in preparation for a "great battle" against the vicious robbers. The scene where she rallies people together is a hoot as she ponders whether or not to include the "cowardly Shin-san." The last scene where she mistakes Gennai's gift from Riha as a gift to her is also funny. He simply gives up and lets her keep the hair ornament. Most everyone is accounted for here except for Gohei and Hayate Kid. Misato is also absent but returns in a big way in the next episode. Another memorable, if slightly flawed programmer from Ota Akikazu.
Continued in Episode Twenty-Two: THE DESPERATE GAMBLE!!!