KAIKETSU KUROZUKIN in film

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Kaiketsu Kurozukin (The Black Hood) is one of Japan’s most enduring hooded hero properties, with cinematic origins in the silent era and a retooling about once a decade since. We did a brief overview of the property a while back here, with some amazing press stills from a 1960 color entry starring Ryutaro Otomo.

Here’s Otomo five years earlier in Gozonji Kaiketsu Kurozukin Maguna no Hitomi:

Much like the very similar and equally prolific Kurama Tengu, Black Hood’s adventures are set in the 1860s, when the Shogunate was crumbling to the notions of a restored emperor and an end to isolation. Fusing traditional Japanese swordsmanship with proficiency in imported revolvers, he was a fighting symbol of that time of change.

Kurozukin is a master of disguise, observing urban intrigue as a fortune teller, then donning a variety of international identities to insert himself into the political struggle at hand. With a penchant for smoke bomb-covered getaways, and a costume that is essentially off-the-rack shinobi night mission gear, Black Hood is the most ninja-like of Japan’s hooded vigilante set.

And he’ll pop a cap in your ass!

The same year saw Otomo return in Gozonji Kaiketsu Kurozukin Dai-Niwa Shinsengumi Tsuigeki. I LOVE this movie, both actor and character are in superb form here.

The chest is full of gold that can help topple the Shogunate. Is Kurozukin’s two-pistoled escort enough to get the chest through a gauntlet of sinister Shinsengumi?

The absolute highlight of this film is an incognito Kurozukin donning a parade dog (lion? dragon?) to fend off a gang of thugs. They are spooked and stymied by this outré offense, as he bites their blades and head-butts them into submission.

The film ends with a memorable showdown on a narrow road, as a stalwart Black Hood – modern pistols drawn – marches toward a Shinsegumi force armed with obsolete Japanese muskets.

1960’s Ayaushi! Kaiketsu Kuro-Zukin had an even more Western-y climax, as the Hood leads a wagon train of Chinese expatriates through a mob of political conspirators swarming like Indians. He even wore an ornate pistol rig worthy of Hopalong Cassidy.

The combination of western firearms and traditional swords must have registered on Tomisaburo Wakayama, as not only his Bounty Hunter series attests, but also his own stab at the character in 1981.

This made for TV Kaiketsu Kurozukin is somewhat of a phone-in, trying litle new with the character, repeating familiar swordplay, and using recycled music from other Katsu productions. But hey, it’s Wakayama fighting guys in tengu masks…

No, this wasn’t goodbye for the oft-renewed character. There’s at least one more version (1990) and I can’t imagine the 2000s went by without at least some sort of TV revisiting. I want to see this character reimagined as female, similar to what’s been done with The Purple Hood and Tange Saizen.

The more frequently rebooted character is Kurama Tengu — same weapons, same hood, but silk kimono and sandals replacing the ninja gear. We’ll do a similar feature on the anti-Shogunate masked mountain demon in the future.

Meanwhile you can find all the hooded heroes at Kurotokagi !


Bounty Hunters and Bikini Yakuza!

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Spotted on eBay:

Long-format movie poster to one of Tomisaburo Wakyama‘s Shokin Kasegi (The Bounty Hunter) flicks.

Tempted as I was to buy this slightly overpriced sheet, that is a nekkid tattoo’d chick after all, Wakayama’s Ron Jeremy-esque appearance sorta kills it for me. Although his haircut seems to change from scene to scene?

I’ve previously posted on the TV version of this spaghetti samurai oddity here with a tribute to my all-time favorite shadow-skilled sword girl ‘Kagero’ as played by Judy Ongg. There’s also a prototype of the character in Quick-Draw Okatsu, which was featured here in a write up of the absolutely adorable Reiko Oshida here.

(See new readers, it’s worth your time to dig through the sliding-door category archives!)

Several eps of the TV show are available here. HIGHLY recommended if you like spaghetti westerns, gimmick arsenals, Wakayama’s unparalleled swordplay and the flavor of 70’s and 80’s Japanese TV in general.

Meanwhile, MAJOR developments in non-ninja-related Yakuza land…

Well this image works on all sorts of levels, doesn’t it!

The seller described this only as “Bikini Yakuza.” Maybe that’s the real title? If so, where has this movie been my whole life? This 2-sheeter went through the roof, alas. Whereas I freely admit to being a shinobi-shop-aholic, my line budget for non-kunoichi material is strictly limited.

Okay REIKO OSHIDA, we get it, you’re cute…

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Right here, right now, I’m going to declare Reiko Oshida‘s uber-plucky Rui, from the amazing Quick-Draw Okatsu, THE CUTEST SWORD GIRL EVER!

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Rui is a free-spirited wandering fighter looking for a scrap. Luckily, she crosses paths with the often blood-spattered fugitive she-demon Okatsu and the requisite legion of male scumbags out to do her no good. Let the games begin…

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Crooked gambling dens, gangs of sweaty roving rapists, conspirators ensnaring the innocent in their insidious schemes… none is safe from this bare-legged goddess of the wakizashi. Oh those cheeks!

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The way the film plays out, Okatsu keeps getting outnumbered, takes a physical or sexual beating, Rui pops up just in time, Okatsu gets ahold of a stray katana, and the bloodbath begins. Rinse and repeat. There might not be a more satisfying sword girl movie than this.

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Oshida, more often in switchblade fights with savage sukeban, is absolutely awesome in these fights. She’s totally credible as the tomboy with a short sword – great gestures and poses – and she never loses that chipmunk-cheeked smile. Rui loves to scrap!

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This, however, is perhaps the single hottest moment of the film. I love the chambara cliche of the mystery swordsman in the gasa who lets an oppenent slash so close, the straw gets cut to reveal the steely eyes of the hero underneath. This may be the only time the hero under the hat is actually a hottie heroine! Okatsu is increasingly brutal and chillingly efficient with he swordplay as the movie escalates.

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And then Tomisaburo Wakayama shows up as a proto-Shokin Kasegi for a bonus portion of violence.

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Okatsu dawns this terrific outfit for the climactic home invasion and dishing-out-of-revenge-o-rama.

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But it’s another adorable moment with Rui that punctuates the film. The bounty hunter gives her grief for her underwear showing, and she gets bashful all of a sudden.

This is the second major plug I’ve given for Quick-Draw Okatsu, and if THE CUTEST SWORD GIRL EVER doesn’t get you to buy it, you’re on the wrong website.

And if you want more Oshida, look for her Pinky Violence stuff on Amazon.

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Judy Ongg as KAGERO

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Once upon a time, “Lone Wolf” himself Tomisaburo Wakayama got a little bored with normal swordfare, watched a few too many spaghetti westerns, and spawned a fantastic movie and TV franchise called Shokin KasegiThe Bounty Hunter.

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The character made three* silver screen appearances in 1969, but had longer life when the property jumped to television in the 70’s, tightening up to a formulaic ‘hunt-of-the-week’ series. Shikoro Ichibei runs a grade school / day care for impoverished Edo children by day, funding this noble pursuit by moonlighting as a bounty hunter and covert merc for the local magistrate. He does his job with both sword (there was typically one Wakayama signature slashing per episode) and an arsenal of outré handguns and experimental rifles that would have made Sabata or Sartana jealous.

Formulaic TV heroes need their sidekicks, and Ichibei’s plucky and scrappy Tonto/Kato-equivalent was ‘Kagero’, played by Thai-born pop singer and actress Judy Ongg.

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Just as the rather spaghetti-westernized Ichibei wore signature leather chaps and gunbelts, Kagero’s outfit was based on period shinobi-wear, but executed in suede right off the American frontier. Similar costuming was seen in Kaiketsu Lion Maru.

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Kagero was Ichibei’s scout, shadow-killed information gatherer, outright spy, saboteur etc. and so forth. She specialized in reverse-grip short sword, blow-gun, explosive powders and whatnot, but would not hesitate to borrow a sawed-off shotgun from her boss’ amble arsenal and blow a guy’s lunch through his spine if things came down to it. Ongg’s expressive eyes and bee-stung lips give her both a voluptuous beauty and a youthful cuteness at once. She’d run into battle smiling like a tomboy but could also be deadly serious and stoic.

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For a singer/actress, Judy Ongg sure did some nifty acrobatics and fights, too. Yeah, sure, as a sidekick you have a certain amount of contractual damsel-in-distress / best buddy held hostage time, but you really had a notion of her skill – Kagero was an ace.

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Kagero’s greatest asset was, however, an absolutely astounding posterior. It’s positively Mexican. I mean, wow! That is how a woman was meant to be, kunoichi killer or otherwise. Damn, I’m in love…

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Swoon.

Thing of it is, the sidekick contract seems to always include a decided lack of screen time. Yeah yeah, Wakayama’s the star and the best swordsman on the Japanese screen ever ever ever, we know. But damn, I’d be happy with just the Kagero show! Most weeks had some sort of guest hunter, too, with an exotic signature weapon of his own like a bullwhip or bolos or a bamboo bazooka – so her screen time would be cut even more.

A whole pile of episodes of The Bounty Hunter are available from various grey sources. The movies are somewhat harder to come by, but those don’t have Judy, so feh… However, see the footnote below for a movie you can find easily with just as strong a swordgirl presence.

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Pre-Kagero magazine cover exposure for the lovely Judy. What a babe…

Judy Ongg’s official website

Ongg on wiki

*Fans of the superb Quick-Draw Okatsu film will recognize virtually the same character strolling nonchalantly into that franchise. This unofficial crossover, where he shared screentime with a ludicrously cute swordgirl played by pinky star Reiko Oshida, may have been the template for the TV Ichibei / Kagero formula.