Kunoichi in CASTLE OF OWLS

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While the overt conflict of Castle of Owls may be the wolf-vs-sheepdog of Juzo and Gohei, there is a deeper interior conflict in both men played out by their relationships to women, all of whom are deadly female ninja themselves. So let’s take at look at the mysterious manipulator Kohagi (Hizuno Takachiho) and the teen cutie Kizaru (Chiyoko Honma).

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Upon arriving in Edo, Juzo is shadowed and sized up. He doesn’t fall for his ‘guide’ Kohagi’s proper lady act for a minute, and draws down on her.
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Her hand forced, she produces a hidden blade in her umbrella in an impressive display of martial arts savvy. She coyly laughs-off the encounter, but at the same time, Juzo just sniffed her out as kunoichi right away. BUSTED!
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‘No dear, that’s just my sword handle… but don’t get me wrong, I AM glad to see you.’
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Hizuno’s face is all angles and killer expressions. She’s absolutely gorgeous, but at the same time conveys a definite quality of lethal shrewdness.

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But lo-and-behold, is she even hotter in full mission gear?
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When picking an actress to play kunoichi, CAST FOR THE EYES! They did so here for sure. 
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A lot of ninja gals in 60’s films look better in hoods than more modern flicks because of the contemporary eye make-up.
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This hooded femme fatale is a full-on HAMMER, and at this point in the film is f’n with Juzo’s head big time. Is she fox, or foe?
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Meanwhile, Kizaru, a child survivor survivor of the Iga massacre that started this whole revenge quest, is now blossoming into womanhood, and finding young love herself. Betrothed to the traitor Gohei, she rejects that arrangement and swears to kill him. She then falls for Juzo’s apprentice Kumotaro (Kawarazaki Choichiro), a wannabe shinobi who is still innocent. 
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That innocence is central to the sub plot of the youngsters. Kizaru’s got a burgeoning shadow skill set of her own, but has yet to spill blood. She’s one step further down the trail of blood than Kumotaro, and as she is drawn by the outer currents of the revenge whirlpool herself, her redemption will come in resisting the pull of the assassin life.
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It’s probably safe to let a guy cop a feel when you have the skills to tear his arm off his torso…
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At film’s end, the equally conflicted Kohagi embodies Juzo’s triumphant character turn. He is faced with the opportunity to have his vengeance, or a future with a woman in equal need of redemption. 
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Finally kill the shogun after ten years, or run off with a smoking hot babe in a soaking wet ninja suit? Hmmm…
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Back-to-back debates, with Juzo and Gohei facing opposite directions, happen throughout the film. This time, the conflict between former clansmen over blood and honor is over, and the talk is now between man and woman over the future and their very humanity.

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But look at her, is there really a debate here?

Women in Castle of Owls represent the future, the salvation of love, domesticity, peace and the abandonment of the shadow life. One woman is saved from the trail of blood she has been down her entire life. She risks all to save herself (and her man), and in doing so is the model for the next generation’s heroine, who is ultimately spared the black suit and all it entails.

Two interesting side notes on the actresses: As part of the movie’s promotion, Chiyoko Honma hosted a series of short promo films wherein she interviewed ninjutsu grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi, who would demo a different ninja weapon in each short. A year after Castle of Owls, Hizuno Takachiho married chambara superstar Koichi “Shintaro the Samurai” Ose! Man, that’s a vintage ninja power couple if there ever was one…

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