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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 25


Directed by Ikuo Sekimoto

"Maybe...this is the end for us."

Two former Iga agents living as woodcutters return home from a days work to find their family murdered by the Koga. The ninja return and slaughter one of the men and capture the other. The old man manages to get a message away in time via carrier pigeon. However, the Shiina expected this and watch nearby. One of the Shiina warriors sends his dog, Hanamaru to chase the pigeon. Tracing it back to Yamabiko, the Shiina now know where the stray Iga are hiding out.

Shin reads the note and ponders why the Koga would kill Taichi Nisuke's family. Orin and Okei suddenly enters asking why Shin isn't ready to carry the portable shrine for use in the festival of the "one eyed Benten"(goddess). The ever horny Orin replies to Shin, "Our sweaty bodies will touch...your hot breath on me..."

Shinpachi exits Yamabiko to investigate the Nisuke murder. While he is out, the eccentric Shiina assassin, Shujin, and his dog, Hanamaru, enter the restaurant followed by a group of men wielding spears. Gohei and Ryukichi know something is wrong. Meanwhile, Shin goes to the Nisuke home and finds a note written by the Shiina that they have Nisuke in their custody. Shin manages to escape just as the house blows sky high.

Back at Yamabiko, Gohei tells his daughter, Oharu, not to let any customers inside. He sends her away and tells her not to come back. She doesn't get far and is caught by the Koga waiting outside. At that time, the Koga and Shiina make their presence known, "We have found it at last...the Shadow Warriors secret location."

Kuroiwa Gensai explains to Gohei that they are hostages and will be used to snatch Tsuge Shinpachi and the rest of the Iga band. The festival continues into the night. Shin returns and is met with some throwing darts by the Shiina. He now realizes the Shadow Warriors have been found. He is given a note via an arrow demanding he give himself up along with the three others or else Oharu and Nisuke will be killed. Shin takes to a huge drum signaling through code to the other Iga that help is coming.

Shin, Tsuruzo, Koroku and Otoki make a plan to get to the restaurant and free Gohei and the others. They decide to make their way through an underground tunnel leading to Yamabiko. The Shiina dog smells them and the villains attack. Retreating, Koroku uses a trap to cave in the underground. Suddenly, a large arrow attached to a thick rope rips through the wall. A familiar laugh is heard. Doctor Gennai emerges through the wall carrying what he calls his new "rope cannon". Able to support two grown men, the plan is to use this weapon to secretly enter Yamabiko from the roof under cover of the loudness of the fireworks. The doctor exits and leaves the Iga to their plan.

Wearing a lion dancing costume, Shin and the others enter the house taken over by Anabuki Samon and his Shiina warriors. Revealing themselves, the Shadow Warriors manage to obtain hostages of their own. Samon escapes and makes his way to Yamabiko. Angered that their base has been overtaken by Shinpachi, Samon then kills Nisuke with a sword strike. Ryukichi attempts an escape but is quickly injured by Gensai. He is brutally beaten. The Koga take Nisuke's dead body outside. The Iga retrieve his corpse when Gensai brings out his hostages. Shin tells him he holds five of his men. Gensai states he doesn't care about useless men and that if he doesn't surrender, he will kill his three hostages and attack.

Then, Okei shows up looking for Oharu announcing the festival cakes are about to be thrown. Tsuru rushes out to rescue her but fails as the Koga capture her. Shin is sent another note of surrender. Using the noise of the fireworks as a cover, the Shadow Warriors use Gennai's rope cannon to launch their attack from the roof. The signal is given and the final battle begins. The Koga engage the remnants of the Iga in a violent and bloody last stand. As the multitude of fighters kill each other, Gohei rushes upstairs to help Koroku. While Gohei fights Samon and a flurry of his men, Shin duels with Gensai and the strange, animalistic Shiina warrior, Shujin.

Gohei rushes Koroku away locking himself upstairs with Samon and a half dozen Koga. The numbers prove too much for Gohei as he is speared repeatedly by the villains. Thinking him to be dead, Gohei utters, "I'm not dead yet." Tugging on a chain, Gohei releases a cluster of spears all which hit their targets. Samon dies and just before Gohei himself expires he says, "Now my journey to hell will be merry..."

Downstairs, Shin continues his grueling battle but finally manages to wipe out his two adversaries. The fight now over, the Shadow Warriors find Gohei's corpse upstairs amongst a gallery of dead Shiina agents. The Shogunate guards destroyed, the Iga burn Gohei atop a funeral pyre and prepare for the final stage of their long journey for vengeance. "Gohei, your death will not be in vain. Even if I am cut to ribbons...I will kill O'oka Tadamitsu!"

Ikuo Sekimoto abandons his exploitation tendencies to deliver a tight and taut action packed and suspense filled episode. One of the best 46 minutes you're likely to spend with a jidageki television program made all the more powerful if you've been following the series from the beginning. Sekimoto carefully builds the tension wringing every bit of hopelessness from the Iga's plight before the slam bang finish. The show has some humorous moments near the beginning but this is quickly replaced by serious dramatic incident once some of the Iga and innocent lives are captured. The Shadow Warriors form up in one building while the Koga entrench themselves in another with the Edo occupants enjoying the festival in the middle, oblivious to the violence going on around them.

Little is left out of this one. Orin gets in some choice comical bits throughout. There's a hilarious sequence where Orin and Okei argue over the virtues of their butts. Orin comments on the roundness of her tush and demands that Shin explain why he doesn't want it. Gohei tells her, "You should try sitting on it." The Hayate Kid is absent from this episode although he does return for the finale. The death of Gohei is quite the shocker especially the way the show builds to its conclusion. The audience is led to think that Ryukichi will be the ill fated ninja to meet his doom at the hands of the eager Iga killers. He is brutally beaten and stabbed several times by Gensai. Sonny Chiba is especially intense in these last two episodes showcasing some strong emotion even behind his mask.

This is easily one of the finest episodes of the entire series and despite the conspirator angle seemingly abandoned at this point (a conspirator was also not named in episode 17, but hinted at instead), it doesn't really matter as the action and shock occurrence comes at such a rapid pace, the viewer hasn't the time to dwell on who the 25th conspirator is supposed to be. Judging by two characters that appear in episode 26, I assume that they are the last two loyalists. Highly recommended, this show (as well as the next) is for the action fan and doesn't disappoint in any department.

Continued in Episode Twenty-Six: THE HEAD OF O'OKA!!!

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