Samurai Wolf II (1967)
Directed by Hideo Gosha

Samurai Wolf II
Kiba okaminosuke jigoku giri
Starring Isao Natsuyagi (Kiba), Ko Nishimura (Magobei), Yuko Kusunoki (Oren), Rumito Fuji (Oteru), Chiyo Aoi (Otatsu)
Screenplay by Hiroshi Tasaka

Toei Company, 72 minutes
B&W, 2.35:1 scope
English-subtitled DVD: Samurai DVD

The second and final installment in Gosha's Samurai Wolf carries on many on the hallmarks as the original: the same freeze-frame battle cry opening montage, the same awesome harmonica theme music, another title sequence in which Kiba is enjoying a snack. Kiba's trademark scissors are once again employed as a key plot device, and Kiba continues to demonstrate his honesty and honor in a corrupt and dirty world.

In Samurai Wolf II: Hellcut, Kiba gets involved in the transport of three criminals being taken to Edo for execution. When the prisoners' escorts are called to assist a group of officials stricken by poisoned water, Kiba accepts payment as a yojimbo to see the criminals to their destination. Kiba has a soft spot for one of the prisoners, a thief named Magobei, because he bears a resemblance to Kiba's late father.

In the first movie, we learned nothing about Kiba's past and how he became a ronin. This made the character unique among Gosha's ronin protagonists, who have typically suffered some dark betrayal in their pasts that led them to their disenfranchised state. In this episode, Kiba tells Magobei that his father was a ronin who earned his living through the disreputable practice of dojo yaburi, or dojo breaking, which meant challenging the students and masters at a dojo and humiliating them so badly that they would pay the intruder to go away. A flashback to Kiba's childhood shows how his father was killed before his eyes after one dojo refused to settle the embarrassing extortion with money. Thus, as Magobei observes, Kiba is a "second-generation ronin" who was never a true samurai before. This helps explain Kiba's more optimistic outlook on life, since he was never disillusioned by a fall from high to low.

Samurai Wolf II settles into a fairly routine chambara plot from that point, as Kiba fulfills his mission to delivers Magobei and the other prisoners to the administrators' station but then plays a part in their escape. But Magobei proves unworthy of Kiba's aid, and Kiba ends up getting captured himself and strung up by a rope in an echo of Musashi Miyamoto's cedar tree punishment. Inevitably the story builds to a final duel between Kiba and Magobei. In contrast to the first film's showdown, in which Kiba handicapped himself for a fair match against a wounded adversary, this time it's Kiba who enters the match with an injured arm in a bamboo splint. You better believe Magobei doesn't offer to even the odds. Unsurprisingly, Kiba still wins the duel, but not before Magobei commits a brutally foul deed. Devastated, Kiba is left to face the fact that this tragedy would not have unfolded if he hadn't helped Magobei escape his execution.

It seems that the Samurai Wolf series was originally planned to continue on for further episodes, though that was never to be. As we can see from Gosha's subsequent filmography, the director grew more interested in complex, pitch-black explorations of morality and corruption that went well beyond the scope of the playful Okaminosuke Kiba adventures. Though after the betrayal he suffered at the end of Samurai Wolf II, Kiba may have finally become the angry and cynical ronin instead of the happy-go-lucky wanderer, and thus there would be no further need to tell stories about him.

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