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Episode 26: THE HEAD OF O'OKA (SAISHUKAI KOHEN: NIJUROKU-NIN SAIGO NO KUBI *****
Directed by Ikuo Sekimoto
"This is your final mission...Do it well." With the destruction of the Shiina agents, O'oka Tadamitsu hides within the walls of Chiyoda castle in an effort to escape the grasp of the relentless Iga remnants. Fearing for his life, signs are posted claiming the Iga as rebels and 100 gold coins are promised to anyone that captures them dead or alive. Many of Edo's inhabitants join in the hunt. Some of O'oka's soldiers go to Yamabiko and speak with Orin as to the whereabouts of Tsuge Shinpachi and what remains of the Shadow Warriors. Unsuccessful in learning any information, the men seek out Dr. Gennai. Meanwhile, a group of fortune hunters head out to locate the Iga and encounter a drunken priest blocking their path along a bridge. Yelling at him to move aside, the renegade priest, Hozoin Ransetsu, demands Sake and becomes angered. He attacks with his spear and easily kills the men. At another location, a ronin from Aki, the famous swordsman, Kotani Senshiro is also in Edo. These two powerful adversaries have been summoned by O'oka. Meantime, Shin meets with Otoki who is in disguise as a servant girl. Shin leaves the area and is attacked by armed men. Disposing of them, it is apparent to the Iga chief that getting to O'oka is going to be more difficult than ever. Shin discusses plans with Tsuru, Ryukichi and Koroku after receiving a map of Chiyoda castle from Otoki. Dr. Gennai enters their room and has one last talk with his friends before heading out to his home village in Sanuki. Gennai has a late night drink with Shin before he says his final goodbye. "I found a friend for life...I don't want you to die before me." Shin thanks him for all he has done for the Iga cause. Doctor Gennai then disappears into the night. Later, both Senshiro and Ransetsu have a meeting with O'oka. The Dark Shogun has a plan to dispose of the Iga Warriors once and for all. The next day, the unhinged Shogun, Ieshige is overseeing a game he created featuring beautiful women sumo wrestling. O'oka enters and states that he must make the trip to Kanei-ji Temple to pay respects on the anniversary of his fathers death. Ieshige decides that O'oka should take his place. This is the perfect opportunity O'oka was looking for. Meanwhile, Otoki reveals information to Koroku that O'oka will be leaving the castle in the Shogun's place. As word gets around, officers follow the young Iga. Upon entering a brothel, the officers mistakenly find the Hayate Kid. After a rooftop battle, the Kid escapes and meets up with Shin as the Shadow Warriors make their last phase of attack. The Kid wants to fight with them, but Shin says "We cannot let an outsider die for us." The next day, O'oka and his entourage leave for Kanei-ji Temple. Shinpachi gives orders no one is to move till he gives the signal. Upon closer inspection, Shin realizes that the man entering the temple isn't O'oka but a double. Meanwhile, back at Chiyoda castle, O'oka encounters his new servant girl which is Otoki in disguise. Ransetsu tests her to see if she is in fact a civilian. Otoki's skills save her from being discovered. Back at the temple, Tsuruzo sees a chance to attack and manages to fatally stab the doppleganger posing as O'oka. However, it's a trap and Tsuru is attacked by Senshiro. Mortally wounded by the ronin's blade, Tsuru falls down an embankment. The other Iga find his body and Tsuru in his last dying breath, believes that he has killed the Dark Shogun. Shin stops Koroku from revealing the truth so as not to allow Tsuru to know he has died in vain. The Iga spy Otoki's signal letting them know O'oka is still in the castle. "Tsuru...this battle is for you." The last of the Iga make their way to the heavily fortified castle as O'oka and his two formidable guests await their arrival. As they talk, Ransetsu discovers Otoki listening in on their conversation. She is caught and held hostage. The Shadow Warriors make their entrance slaughtering all the soldiers guarding the castle. With just three men against many, the Hayate Kid suddenly appears to lend a hand. Shin and Ransetsu have a long duel. The Iga chief barely survives the encounter. With both Koroku and Ryukichi injured, Shinpachi next meets the powerful swordsman, Senshiro. Upon entering the room with the awaiting ronin, Shin finds the fallen body of Otoki, her blood on Senshiro's blade. The two fight, but suddenly, Otoki is still alive. She grabs Senshiro's legs enabling Shinpachi to attack with a fatal strike. Otoki then dies in Shin's arms. Now only the Dark Shogun remains. The vengeful Tsuge Shinpachi then finds his long sought after target hidden behind a wall covered by a shrine. Face to face yet again with the man that wiped out the Iga clan, O'oka very calmly attempts to persuade Shinpachi to not kill him. "I have always wanted a man like you. Let's bury the hatchet and work together. You can rule the land with me! What do you want? Name it." Shin says, "I want only one thing...your head." The two briefly clash. Shin cuts down the evil O'oka Tadamitsu finally putting an end to his tyranny. He removes the list detailing the 26 loyalists whose handprints are all stained with the blood of many Iga. Later, the absent minded Shogun, Ieshige is playing with his women wearing a blindfold. Something scares them away. He removes his blindfold and comes face to face with the head of his chief adviser, the Dark Shogun, himself. "Look well upon the head of a tyrant! If you still do not understand, abdicate as Shogun!" Hidden behind a door, the shadow of Shinpachi disappears into the night. The next day, Orin cries to Okei devastated that Shin would leave her all alone at the bathhouse. Meanwhile, Shinpachi, Koroku and Ryukichi burn the pledge of the 26 conspirators. Shin demands that his last two disciples need not follow him anymore, that they should settle down and lead happy lives. "Because they had followed me, Gohei, Uta...Tsuru and Otoki...all lost their precious lives!" Despairingly, Shinpachi looks to his last two young and heartbroken devotees, "Thank you...for sticking with me." He then disappears beyond the hills leaving both Koroku and Ryukichi to live out the remainder of their lives in peace. The evil of O'oka vanquished, the unjust annihilation of the Iga has finally been avenged. Ikuo Sekimoto delivers the last, and one of the best and most action packed shows of KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. To give you an idea, the finale of the 46 minute episode begins around the 20 minute mark! A saddening tone is set near the beginning when Gennai exits the show. He and Shinpachi share a drink together before the good doctor leaves. He has no last gadget for the anxious Iga and leaves them to take on O'oka alone. The shocks come fast and furious here as both Tsuruzo and the beautiful Otoki are killed before the show ends. The last two conspirators (it's never specified, but I presume so) are an intimidating duo and provide a grand foil for Shin and the others. Aside from all the tension this last show provides, there is one major slip up. Shin forbids the Hayate Kid to participate but during the last battle, he shows up to help anyway. You see him fighting an onslaught of opponents but then you never see, nor hear from him again. You don't even know if he lives or dies. I guess it could be safe to assume that Sanada was busy working on another movie or tv show and was unable to shoot a final scene. It's a bit jarring, but if not for so many great moments, I would knock off a star on the rating. For sheer entertainment value, this episode is one of the best. Sekimoto even manages to sneak in some choice nudity. Orin gets a couple of brief scenes but there's nary a comedic bit in sight unless you count her breaking down into tears screaming Shinpachi's name. Any fan of Sonny Chiba or Henry Sanada should definitely check out KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. It has an intriguing premise and a number of top class episodes. Starting off like gangbusters, the series finishes up in style with equal amounts of triumph and tragedy. After the end credits, a preview for KAGE NO GUNDAN 3 is shown.
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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.