Friday, December 19, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 24


Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

A group of individuals inside a brothel are stealthily killed by Kunoichi. The next day, Courtesan Hanasode Tayu, the most popular at Sasaya makes her way down the streets of Edo as the young Iga watch. The popular Courtesan and newcomer, Shirayuki catches Tsuru's attention as does medicine dealer, Buzenya Sukezaemon. Meanwhile, Otoki entertains patrons with her acrobatics. A young boy rushes up and steals her earnings. She and Koroku chase him. They see the boy enter a hut and they are greeted by a man who claims there is no child inside. Claiming the two are treating him as a bandit, the man explains he used to receive a 1,000 koku (a unit of volume to measure a man's wealth; usually determined by the amount of rice needed to feed an individual for a year) stipend once. He runs Otoki and Koroku off.

Later, doctor Gennai enters the bathhouse at Yamabiko all dressed up. Giving Orin and Okei a surprise, he tells them he had business at Chiyoda Castle. Settling down in his usual clothes, Shin and Orin quiz Gennai about his day at the castle. Tsuru enters with a note for the good doctor. Shin notices the note is a Tenbeni letter (red lined paper sent from a prostitute) from the Courtesan, Hanasode. Begging to be taken along, Gennai refuses the young Iga to join him. Displaying an interest in going, Orin interrupts stating that Courtesan's wear too much clothing, "It's hard to remove." Shin replies with, "That's the fun of it."

At the brothel, Gennai has drinks with Hanasode who asks him to stay a few days curtailing the reason for summoning him. Four days later, the young Iga are eager to know what has become of the good doctor. After much pestering, Shin tells them to go on ahead. Orin enters and begs Shin not to go, thinking he will end up in the gay quarters. Tsuruzo, Koroku and Ryukichi all go to Yashiwara to see what has happened to Gennai. Discovering he was summoned to paint a portrait, the young Iga laugh at Gennai as the boys thought he was asked there for romance.

Before leaving, Gennai asks Tsuru to take his ginseng books to the Koishikawa herb nursery. Koroku spies Shirayuki, the girl from the earlier procession talking with her father and brother-- two familiar faces. One is the boy that stole from Otoki and the other is the man that they confronted. Koroku asks her about the little boy, Jotaro.

When asked why a samurai's daughter is living as a prostitute, she says her father, Inoue Zusho, was a former advisor to lord Arima. Arima opposed Shogun Ieshige's succession and was subsequently killed by O'oka. Having no heirs, his house was abolished. All his subjects lost their positions and eventually they all fled. Only the Inoue family remained, with Yukino (Shuriyuki) helping to support her father and brother. Later that evening, Tsuru and Koroku go to Gennai's home to get his books and discover his home in shambles. Thinking the books stolen, an old lady enters and hands them over. As they race to see Gennai, the two Iga are ambushed by a group of Koga ninjas.

Some time after, Gensai Kuroiwa meets with Buzenya Sukezaemon about taking control of the Korean Ginseng trade by kidnapping Hiraga Gennai who claims the sought after plant can be grown in Japan. It's all a plan to boost the war funds for O'oka by tripling the ginseng prices by fooling customers into thinking what they're buying is the Korean variety. Meanwhile, the doctor has finished his portrait of the revered courtesan. Slipping him a truth drug, a Kunoichi using the "Two-Faces Art", knocks the doctor unconscious. But Gennai has thought ahead and taken an antidote prior to smoking the pipe. He tries to escape but is quickly caught along with Shirayuki.

Back at Yamabiko, the Shadow Warriors discuss the devious plans of the villains. Realizing that medicine dealer, Buzenya Sukezaemon is involved, the Iga figure that O'oka wants Gennai's knowledge of growing ginseng in Japan. Later on, the Iga are alerted to a horrible discovery of four dead bodies (the four individuals killed at the outset). Tsuru says they were killed over half a month ago yet Ryukichi says he saw them at Sasaya. Meeting back with Shinpachi, he comes to the conclusion that Sasaya is a lair for the Koga and that the Courtesan, Hanasode was murdered and replaced with someone else; the art of Two Faces disguise.

That night, Buzenya asks Gennai to help him by growing Korean Ginseng stating that killing such a learned man would be such a waste. Gennai refuses stating, "The ginseng is to help the sick and suffering...not to feed O'oka's ambitions." The villains threaten Gennai once more and leave. The doctor looks around and finds some items to use to make an explosive. He and Shirayuki escape but are attacked in the street. The girl gets away, but the doctor is captured again. Rushing back to her home, Yukino (Shirayuki) has led the Koga right to her. Her mother and father are killed in the fray, but Yukino is also stabbed just as Koroku and the other Iga arrive. She is taken back to Yamabiko to recover.

Awakening, Yukino tells the Shadow Warriors that Gennai is in serious danger. At that moment, the Shadow Warriors head into battle. Arriving just as Gennai is about to be killed, the Iga and Koga begin their fight in and around the red light district. The head Kunoichi tries to run but Shinpachi corners her and the two have a duel that extends to the building rooftops. The vicious female ninja is killed and the other Koga are vanquished.

The next day, Koroku ask if Yukino is all right. Then, Gohei appears from over the hill. He has returned after visiting his hometown. He heckles Koroku about the pretty girl asking, "Are you in love again? You sure are fast with the girls." Shinpachi watches the friendly reunion warmly noting, "The pest has come back...It will be fun again!"

Director Yuji returns to deliver a very good, action packed episode that is notable for several reasons. One, there is a very strong female villain that is quite the formidable opponent to Shinpachi. The duel between Shin and Hanasode is possibly the longest duel out of the whole of series two. Second, this episode brings back Gohei who had disappeared without mention. However, when he shows up at the end, it's said he was away visiting family.

There are a couple of humorous scenes that, as most always, revolve around Orin. She's nowhere near the horndog she was in the previous episode, but she's a joy to watch as usual. This show has one of the best final fights and neatly sets up the last two action packed programs. For the next two shows, it's nonstop action and this episode is a nice lead in, even if the conspirator plot point is a bit confused here. A recommendation for action fans.

Continued in Episode Twenty-Five: IGA VS. KOGA: THE LAST BATTLE!!!

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 23

Episode 23: THE SECRET OF THE WOMEN'S PALACE (MA NO FURISODE GOTEN) **1/2 (*** if only for the sheer goofiness and insanity)

Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

***WARNING! This review contains several pics that feature nudity***


Shogun Ieshige's heir, Shigechiyo admires a large hobby horse given to him for his birthday. While he plays in the hallway, Wakasa-dono discusses with the boys mother, Oyo no Kata, that the four year old is ready to take his place as Shogun. Fearing reprisal from the evil O'oka Tadamitsu, Wakasa explains that if Ieshige retires, than O'oka will be powerless to retaliate. As the female guards play with the child in the halls, the light suddenly disappears and a group of warriors dressed in red and sporting glowing masks and katana's jump down from the roof and slay the guards and kidnap the young Shigechiyo.

Matsudaira Shogen, a once great leader in the Shogunate was stripped of his stipend (payment with benefits) and dismissed as an elder. Living the life of a hermit, he plays a game of chess with doctor Gennai when the young prince's nanny pays him a visit. Gennai overhears and reports back to Shinpachi. Shin figures the plan is to kill Shigechiyo. A drunk Orin interrupts the conversation complaining she has no husband nor children. Gennai stirs her up by saying Shin is available. Orin proceeds to strip him of his clothing but he narrowly escapes when he pushes Orin onto Tsuruzo.

Later, the Iga meet and discuss the kidnapping. The Shiina have a group of female warriors known as the Kunoichi Five and Shin figures they were involved in the hijacking. That night, Otoki sneaks into Shiina mansion. Discovering the prince is not being held within the mansion, Otoki is injured by a trap upon exiting the enemy encampment.

The next day, Matsudaira Shogen goes to Sakurada Palace to discuss the missing boy with Lady Kakuko but he is captured by a group of Kunoichi (female ninja spies). Sakurada Palace is home to the barren concubines of the Shogun. They catch a glimpse of the captured Matsudaira as the Kunoichi cart him to his meeting with Rinjuin Kakuko, the former concubine of the retired Shogun Yoshimune. Assured she was responsible for the kidnapping, Kakuko orders her servants to dispose of him.

Learning of Matsudaira's death, Oyo goes into an hysterical fit thinking her son lost forever. Sometime later, Shin enters the bathhouse looking for Tsuruzo and encounters a number of naked females. Orin leads Shin away and asks if he will bear her a child saying, "I have the equipment. It's like letting fine jewels go to waste. You can impregnate someone else, but make me pregnant, too." All the while Shin ogles at the naked ladies in the adjoining room. Orin then goes through a bag Shin is carrying and discovers women's accoutrement's inside. Becoming incensed, Shin manages to escape and again leaves a passing Tsuru to feel Orin's wrath. Since Otoki is injured, the women's clothing are for Tsuru who is to disguise himself as a female and sneak into Sakurada Palace.

Meanwhile, at the Palace, the former concubines recite sutras until Rinjuin walks out riling the head mistress. The other women become entranced remembering their prior encounters with the late Shogun. Outside, Tsuru successfully enters the Palace fooling five male guards. He sits in with the other spoiled and half-crazed former concubines as they fight over gifts. Tsuru then begins to search throughout the Palace for any trace of the prince. Hearing a child's cries, he finds the prince being held inside a tower within the Palace walls. Tsuru is quickly discovered to be a man in disguise. Taken to Rinjuin Kakuko's quarters, he learns that the woman bears a grudge against the former Shogun for never giving her a child upon his death and leaving her trapped within the confines of the Palace forever.

Later, Tsuruzo attempts to get away to alert the other Iga, but is pursued by the Kunoichi. He eludes them long enough to signal his friends waiting below the entrance to the Palace. He is then taken back to Lady Kakuko who beats him repeatedly to get him to reveal his name. One of the women gets sexually aroused watching him take the beating. Kakuko says he will be burned alive. At the same time, the Shadow Warriors are on the move to rescue him. Kakuko has the prince brought out as he will be burned alive along with Tsuru. The women cackle maniacally as the flames grow higher around Tsuruzo. Using his Iga skills, he manages to escape the death trap. The Shadow Warriors enter and duel with the Kunoichi while Kakuko escapes with Shigechiyo.

After defeating the mystical Kunoichi Five, Shinpachi corners the vengeful Rinjuin Kakuko at the cliffs edge. Taking the boy with her, she leaps from the cliff but Shin manages to snatch Shigechiyo from her grasp with his grappling hook. That night, the Shadow Warriors return the young prince to his mother. Later, Shin and the others take a much needed bath. But it's short-lived as a horny Orin enters wishing to wash Shinpachi's back.

Director Yuji returns from the lackluster, but action oriented episode 19, 'The Great Pursuit'. This episode is only slightly better appearing more like the work of exploitation meister, Ikuo Sekimoto with the abundant nudity and fantasy elements. Still, it's an enjoyable affair with an element of unease courtesy of a gaggle of unhinged women, former concubines unable to bear children who have been driven insane from being locked up in Sakurada Palace for years. The first and last appearances of the Kunoichi Five are purely in the fantasy realm with their glowing masks and katanas that look not too far removed from the light sabres in the STAR WARS films.

The comedy is poured on thickly courtesy of Kiki Kirin's Orin character who is far more sexually excited and hot for Shinpachi's body than usual. Her scenes are a riot as usual and help propel the tired plot point of a kidnapped child (there's already been several in this series so far). The sight of Tsuru in drag makes for an unintentionally hilarious moment when he signals to Koroku and Ryukichi in what looks like a cheerleader set sans the pom poms. All in all, it's an okay episode with a quirky edge and lots of comedy that it's impossible to take the kidnapping plot or Kakuko's revenge subplot seriously. Just don't go into this episode expecting dramatics and you'll do just fine.

Continued in Episode Twenty-Four: THE TWO-FACES ART OF KUNOICHI!!!

The People That Time Forgot (1977) review


Patrick Wayne (Major Ben McBride), Sarah Douglas (Lady Charlotte Cunningham), Thorley Walters (Dr. Edwin Norfolk), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Milton Reid (Sabbala), Dave Prowse (Executioner)

Directed by Kevin Conner

Major Ben McBride (Wayne) goes on a search and rescue mission to find and bring back his friend Bowen Tyler (McClure) still lost in Caprona, the land of dinosaurs. Along for the journey are photographer, Lady Charlotte "Charley" Cunningham, whose magazine is the financier of the trip. Dr. Edwin Norfolk and pilot of the Amphib, Hogan, who was with McBride during the war.

Because of the icy conditions, the quartet must enter the lost world by plane. Once breaching the mountainous regions, a huge pterodactyl causes them to make a forced landing. In their search for Tyler, McBride and the others encounter one peril after the other; cavemen, dinosaurs, deformed sword wielding pseudo-samurai savages and a volcano god that demands female sacrifices.

Kevin Conner returns for the third and last entry in the cinematic adaptations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs lost world adventures. This third picture isn't actually an official Amicus production (the company was already done by the time this film was completed), but can be considered one as it retains much the same production crew from the previous entries. Conner lends his picture a greater sense of adventure than the previous outings.

This is no doubt reinforced by the rousing and exciting score by John Scott (GREYSTOKE). It's a very different style of film score from the first two compositions by Douglas Gamley and Michael Vickers respectively. Vickers also returned to score WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978), a fourth lost world exploit again from the team of Kevin Conner and John Dark and also starring Doug McClure.

Patrick Wayne (the Duke's son) is excellent as the stubbornly chauvinistic former WW1 fighter pilot, Major Ben McBride. His many confrontations with 'Charley' Cunningham (Douglas) are quite funny as each tries to one up the other in terms of who is superior, man or woman. McBride's masculinity is threatened when it appears a female may possibly have the solution to certain problems.

This is first revealed when the group encounter a massive Stegasaurus. Getting the bright idea to use the gigantic creature as a wench to move the Amphibian plane, McBride finds it difficult to motivate the monster. Charley easily gets the dinosaur to move along much to Ben's chagrin. "Lady, I believe in a man doing a man's work. That's all." Wayne is a more commanding lead here than he was in the same year's SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER in which he played the fabled Arabian hero. Wayne comes off much better in these later films than he did in the earlier western films he did with his more famous father. It's a shame he didn't do more fantasy adventure movies.

Sarah Douglas is also good as the feisty magazine photographer, Charley, who doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. Douglas also sports Princess Leia buns on her head in what is probably an inadvertent nod to STAR WARS. She does get to put her hair down during the big finale when the girls are about to be decapitated. Douglas also participates in the action scenes never coming off as a damsel in distress.

However, there is one scene in which she shows she's just as human as her male foil, Ben McBride. Pterodactyls and Stegasaurus's had no effect on her disposition, but when a large spider makes its way onto her person, she loses touch with her more daring tendencies. Interestingly, Douglas and her co-star, Dana Gillespie, would screen test for the role of Ursa in SUPERMAN (1978).

Thorley Walters is his usual chipper self playing another eccentric and batty character, this time as the slightly nutty Dr. Edwin Norfolk. Walters, like everybody else in the cast, gets to take part in the action. Walters is always reliable, and, at least in his horror and fantasy roles, plays odd and unconventional characters in those movies. He doesn't disappoint here. Norfolk is like a kid in a candy store at the chance to explore a land filled with prehistoric men and monsters. He plays the role of Norfolk in a similar vein to Cushing's portrayal as the batty elder, but young at heart, Professor Abner Perry in AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976).

Super sexy Dana Gillespie is simply the hottest cave girl since Raquel Welch. Her sweaty, heaving breasts threaten to erupt from her skimpy outfit during some of the more perilous sequences. Even if you're an individual that can't cope with the dated effects work, Gillespie is a 'very special effect' that CGI cannot replicate. A protege of David Bowie, her music career began in the mid 1960's and she still sings today having done some 50 albums.

She lost out to Sarah Douglas for the role of Ursa in the first two SUPERMAN movies. As opposed to Caroline Munro's character from the previous movie, Ajor has no qualms about leaving the violent land of Caprona behind to enjoy the pleasures of a new world. McBride gives her to Hogan as a present.

McClure has what amounts to a guest appearance (he's billed as such) as he doesn't appear until the finale when McBride and company reach the Mountain of Skulls. Tyler is held captive somewhere within the frightening construct that is literally built from the bones of those sacrificed to Nagarumata, the volcano god of the Naga's. The Naga's are samurai-like warriors who have hideously deformed faces beneath their masks. When you first see Tyler, it's obvious he's been a prisoner for some time from all the facial hair. There is also some hint that Tyler and Ajor have had an intimate relationship at some point.

During the gripping closing moments as the heroes try and make their way back to the plane, Tyler tells McBride that the " is alive. It'll stop you. That volcano is its heart. It controls everything." Repeating the ending of the first picture, which also featured the doomed occupants of the submarine attempting to escape Caprona, here the good guys try for the same thing and it is explained that the volcano controls everything and apparently doesn't want the modern explorers to leave to make sure the secret of Caprona remains just that.

Shane Rimmer has a very comedic turn as the bumbling pilot Hogan who is left behind to fix the damaged plane. As more pterodactyls pass over, he shoots them down then marks them on the side of the plane. All his scenes are peppered with humorous bits of dialog. He is incredibly loyal to his former Major. Rimmer also returned for the fourth film in the series WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (the only one not a Burroughs story; see review elsewhere on the site) from 1978.

Frequent heavy Milton Reid has a role as the evil Sabbala. Looking like something out of a Frazetta painting, Sabbala looks very threatening surrounded by skulls, huge snakes and a creepy, diminutive follower. Reid played in numerous adventure and sword & sandal pictures in addition to some roles in horror productions such as DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972). Hammer performer and the man inside the Darth Vader costume, Dave Prowse plays Sabbala's executioner.

One of my favorite movies, I first saw it as a kid on the Late Movie paired with THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975). Interestingly, there's a scene that was on this television broadcast that is not in the MGM DVD. The missing bit is just an extended dialog scene that takes place immediately after Ajor makes a reference to Nagarumata with her statement, "No one can go against his will and live." The continued dialog from the extended portion of the scene is detailed below...

McBride: "That's what you think. Where I come from, we've never heard of this... Nagarumata, right?"

Norfolk: (Laughs) "Exactly...I don't think we need to take him too seriously."

Ajor: "You wrong...Nagarumata KILL!!"

Norfolk: "No, no, no...You stick with'll be alright."

Ajor: "If we go on...we all Meekay. You go...Ajor stay here."

McBride: "We need your help to get there...and you need us to protect you. I saved your life didn't I..."

(Brief pause) Ajor looks at McBride

McBride: "...Then trust me."

It's a brief scene amounting to about a minute or so of screen time but it adds to the suspense of what is to come when the good guys meet up with the Naga's and realize they aren't the pushovers they initially took them for.

THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) sports a fine cast and well drawn characters that help enliven the action. There are less monsters on display here which should be a given considering the title. One of the creatures is borrowed from AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976). Most of them are trotted out during the conclusion as the heroes are being "chased" by the volcano.

In addition to a thickly armored, prickly backed monstrosity, there's also gigantic snake creatures that emerge from holes in a tiny walkway inside a cave. If the monsters and the rampaging volcano weren't enough to contend with, the bloodthirsty, sword wielding Naga's attempt to impede their escape as well.

The film was shot in the Canary Islands (Santa Cruz de la Palma) and at Pinewood Studios. The production benefits from the most location work of the entire series with minimal studio shots. These include the volcano set and the Mountain of Skulls which is obviously a painting, but the lighting in the first appearance of the humongous assemblage of bone leaves an impression. The interior of the fortress is quite frightening with the walls literally made up of thousands of skulls from victims of the Naga's.

The first and second encounter inside a cave adorned with stalagmites and stalactites is also a nice sight. This is where the heroes run into the four legged, spiked backed monster that resembles an Ankylosaurus. Memorable set pieces include the attack on the bi-plane by a pterodactyl near the beginning which is possibly the most accomplished special effect in the film alongside the Stegasaurus sequence. The action packed final 30 minutes where the heroes fight it out with the Nagas and other enemies are a major highlight.

Coming out the same year as the unstoppable juggernaut that was STAR WARS (1977), that movie pretty much dwarfed everything that came out at that time. The old fashioned and low budget days of the fantasy movie were quickly coming to an end. THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) was one of the last of a dying breed about to be replaced by more state of the art effects work and craftsmanship.

Still, this movie and others like it will always have fans to keep them from becoming the 'Movies That Time Forgot'. The obvious studio sets help give these fantasy adventures an old fashioned quality usually found in the serials of old. An age gone by, yet there's a child-like wonder to these pictures that gives them a timeless quality that will most likely only be felt by those that sat up late Saturday night with a bowl of popcorn and a warm blanket. If you're one of those 'monster movie kids', then I highly recommend this excellent, pulpy adventure movie.

This review is representative of the MGM single edition as well as the double feature disc paired with THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. These two films are part of their 'Midnite Movies' entertainment line.

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