Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Part II (1958)
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Part II
Yagyu bugeicho - Ninjitsu
Starring Koji Tsuruta (Senshiro), Toshiro Mifune (Tasaburo), Mariko Okada (Rika/Maya), Denjiro Okochi (Lord Yagyu), Nobuko Otowa (Princess Kiyo), Senjaku Nakamura (Matajuro), Akihiko Hirata (Tomonori), Kyoko Kagawa (Oki), Eijiro Tono (Fugetsusai), Yoshiko Kuga (Princess Yu), Akio Kobori (Izu-no-Kami), Bokuzen Hidari (Okubo)
Screenplay by Hiroshi Inagaki and Tokuhei Wakao

Toho Company, 105 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD: Kurotokagi Gumi

Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Part II has the distinctive smell of a sequel that the stars of the original weren't keen to participate in. The leading romantic couple from Part I, Tasaburo and Princess Yu, have their roles reduced nearly to cameos. Maybe Toshiro Mifune and Yoshiko Kuga wanted too much money for starring roles or contractual obligations demanded at least an appearance. Koji Tsuruta takes over the top billing as Senshiro, and needless to say he's nowhere near the leading man Mifune is.

The story is largely a rehash of the first one, with Lord Yagyu and Fugetsusai battling it out for possession of those darned scrolls. Tasaburo and Yu have escaped from the world of ninja and clan politics to live together in content seclusion. But their romantic bliss is short-lived when Jubei Yagyu intrudes on their paradise, pulling Tasaburo back in just when he thought he was out. Although he takes a break for the bulk of the running time to let Senshiro have the spotlight.

One new element in the mix for Part II is a crazy old wizard named Hogen who gains possession of the scroll Princess Yu carried throughout Part I. He comes along and causes major headaches for everybody, equipped with his mystical powers. The ninjitsu silliness quotient is upped considerably in this film, particularly in a magic vs. ninja conflagration between Senshiro and Hogen. Senshiro throws a dramatic fire bomb whose pyrotechnics suspiciously resemble flames shooting up from evenly spaced vents in the studio floor, extending to areas where Senshiro didn't toss a thing.

For my money, the more interesting character in the movie is Maya, a young beauty who was forced into marrying Hogen after the wizard cast a spell on her. Matajuro, the disenfranchised Yagyu prince who got a raw deal after knocking out his teeth for the clan last time, is awestruck by Maya when he sees her dancing for money in the street. He mistakes her for his lost love Riku, but then decides she's not her. As far as I can tell, both characters are played by the lovely Mariko Okada, who previously portrayed Akemi in Inagaki's Samurai trilogy. I kept waiting for the big reveal that Maya is Riku, and maybe Hogen's evil spell had erased her memories and blocked her feelings for Matajuro. But such a development never comes. Regardless, Okada gives a great performance and she manages to keep my interest throughout the humdrum story. Maya ends up falling for Senshiro, so if she is actually Riku, poor toothless Matajuro ends up getting the shaft once again. Maya's identity is one of several plot threads left dangling at the end, so maybe there were plans for a Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Part III that never materialized.

Incidentally, this movie has the distinction of being Inagaki's first widescreen production. For a director who'd been working in the 4:3 aspect ratio since the 1930s, Inagaki jumps right into TohoScope with some excellent composition work that served a good foundation for his later and superior widescreen epics.

The Jidai-Geki Knights