For my review of Volume One, click here.
Baian Fujieda is a humble, Edo-era acupuncturist by day and a deadly assassin at night who uses his skill with a needle to dispose of his victims. The character, created by novelist Shotaro Ikenami (Hunter in the Dark) has been through a few onscreen interpertatons, series, telefilms, and movies, the most famous series was made in the early 70's and starred Ken Ogata (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters). As best I can figure (imdb was no help, go figure), this particular series was made in the eighties and is notable for its star Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Memoirs of a Geisha).
Episode Three- ‟Needle.‟ Lady Takojo has been tracking down a ruthless samurai named Sakon Honma. He is responsible for the death of her daughter in law, and since her son won't pursue justice, the octogenarian has spent a month tracking down the cur only to find him and be felled by a fatal blow. Clinging to life, she manages to drag her shattered body to the home of some friends, who take her to Baian. Using all of his medical knowledge, the best he can do for her is alleviate her pain until the end comes, but since he is more than just a doctor, he can use his skills in the art of killing to help her get vengeance.
In addition to being a murderous temperamental psychopath, Sakon Honma is also a privileged son so he has gotten away with many murders, including Lady Takojo's daughter in law who was cut down in broad daylight because she had the nerve to chastise Sakon Honma for nearly running over a boy with his horse. With Lady Takojo's life ebbing away, time is running out. Baian does not have his usual luxury of carefully spying and tracking his prey to find his biggest vulnerabily and the best time to strike. Baian has to act quickly against a very deadly opponent so that the lady can pass into the afterlife satisfied that justice has been done.
Episode Four- ‟Shooting Star.‟ Baian has decided to close down shop for awhile and go on vacation but not before one of his less frequently used motojime's (basically a handler who acts as a go-between for the assassin and his client) offers him an assignment. The task is to kill a well-known scoundrel ronin named Mata-Emon Hayashi.
Turns out, Hayashi is holed up with some seedy shogunate retainers, on the side he's been hired by them to kill a swordsman, and he's also blackmailing a teahouse owner who was a former bandit (thus, the person who hired Baian to kill off Hayashi). The swordsman Hayashi is supposed to kill, Juugoro, is an acquaintance of Baian and his fellow assassin buddy Hikojiro. They aided Juugoro (flashbacks that could be from another episode?) , a swordsman who was basically attacked by his own dojo for being too good and shaming the more esteemed members. After Baian and Hikojiro aided him in his escape, Juugoro has returned to the area where he is still wanted in order to make a final stand.
Ken Watanabe is damn attractive, the sort of man that makes me say, ‟I'm not gay, but if I was, I could only be so lucky.‟ Truthfully, Ken Watanabe would be way out of my league. His looks and charisma really help you identify and root for what is essentially a moral murderer. Those who are only familiar with Watanabe's US films where his roles have been more grim-faced and stalwart, will find through Baian just how capable he is at being warm and easygoing. Even as a killer, because of the moral code and his method (getting close and spiking the guy in the nape of the neck), Baian is a very careful, calculated, and worrisome killer, not the least bit brash, bold, or overconfident.
Thankfully, this second round of episodes dispels one of my complaints with the first round. I felt that the hour plus length of each episode on the first release was a bit too much, not enough suspense or story to sustain the running time. These two episodes are each 45 minutes in length and the shorter running time allows for leaner stories that do not drag and still retain a good amount of detail in the plotting and plenty of breathing room for character moments.
The DVD: Media Blasters
Picture: The elements appear to be in good shape, free from too much wear and tear. Some age fade and budget limitaitons are present, but nothing too severe. Technically, the grain level is quite high, but, overall, for an older Japanese tv show, it is a fair enough, sharp presentation not likely to disappoint viewers.
Sound: Dolby 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Basic track, not exactly an earful, but it is serviceable. It seems that the series only had a limited number of score catalog to draw from, all four episodes of seen so far seem to reuse the same tracks depending on the emotional cue of the scene.
Extras: Nothin', some Media Blasters trailers, that's it.
Conclusion: Okay. The first volume was basically two tv movies. This volume is two 45 minute episodes. Just two. Media Blasters seems to be taking a cue from those anime DVD companies that would only put two or three 22 minute episodes on a disc. I know, I know, I shouldn't be sore about 90 minutes of entertainment, but we expect more from tv releases. Also with the lack of extras and older elements that don't require things like DTS or 5.1 Surround tracks, I don't see why an extra episode or two couldn't be added to this release without compromising the transfer integrity.
I guess the best way to recommend it is this: if you saw the first volume and judged it only rental worthy, purchase worthy, or a complete waste of time altogether, then the same applies for the second.