MAIN CAST AND CHARACTERS

Ōse Kōichi ("Akikusa Shintarō"): Born 27th October 1937 in Yokohama. His real name is Ōse Kazunari. He graduated from Keiō University School of Foreign Languages. In 1952 he entered the Daiei film company (they made Rashōmon among other films) and appeared in a number of films. In 1958 he starred in the TV series Gekkō kamen where he gained tremendous popularity with children as the mysterious masked hero. This series was made by Senkōsha Productions and directed by Funatoko Sadao. Its two theme songs became big hits. Next he was directed by Funatoko in Jagā no me which proved to be another hit. Then came The Samurai which further increased his popularity with the younger set. Throughout the 60s he appeared in various movies apart from the two Samurai spin-offs, some period pieces and gangster films. He also appeared on stage. In 1969 he retired from acting and from 1971 he concentrated on the management of an acting agency and in 1977 finally left show business altogether. He now runs a promotion and property company that includes a chain of noodle shops.

In April 1964 he married actress, Hizuru Takachiho and they have one son, Yasuhiro, born in October 1965. Both were so busy in the first year of their marriage they scarcely saw one another. A few days after the wedding Ōse went into rehearsal for a stage show, then spent 50 days in Kyoto making a film. Then his wife got an acting job, collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital but appeared on stage even while undergoing a course of injections. They resorted to communicating by leaving each other letters to discuss not only work but daily life. Ōse had his share of accidents, falling and injuring himself during some swordplay at a theatre. He now lives in Tokyo and is an expert in iaido.

"Akikusa Shintarō" Elder half brother to the shogun, Ienari, his mother was a concubine and presumably his father was Hitotsubashi Harunari. At one point, he claimed never to have known either his mother or his father. His real name is Matsudaira Nobuchiyo. In his infancy he was entrusted to the Abbot Donkai of the Sainenji Temple (a temple of the Pure Land or Jōdo Sect of Buddhism which was built by Hattori Hanzō whose grave lies in its grounds. The temple is located in Yotsuya, then a town near Edo, and now a part of Tokyo. Hanzō was a famous Iga ninja who worked for the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, and set up his spy network. A gate of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the former Edo Castle, bears his name). When Shintarō was nine, he began training and became a master of the secrets of the Yagyū Shin Kage-ryū style of swordsmanship. Renouncing any claims to power he chooses to protect his younger brother's position as the latter is still in his minority, in the guise of a wandering swordsman, often working for Councillor Matsudaira Sadanobu.

We first see him on an assignment was to investigate the resources of Matsumae fief in Ezo (Hokkaido) in 1792 with the possibility of the shogunate removing the current lord.. In the nest story, he had to foil a group of 13 Kōga ninja who were after a treasure buried by Takeda Shingen in the 16th century in Kai province. During this adventure he took charge of a young orphan, Baba Shūsaku, who accompanied him on later adventures. In the third story, set in May 1788 he prevented a group of 10 Iga ninja from killing Lord Matsudaira and was joined for this adventure by Tonbei the Mist who was sent with his own Iga ninja to protect him by Mochizuki Sakon, the leader of the Iga ninja society who was killed by Genkūrō. Interestingly, Sadanobu addressed him, not as Shintarō, but as Prince Nobuchiyo. He then had to defeat Gensai the Wolf and his Black Ninja who were involved with the retired Lord of Owari in gaining signatures  of various domain lords on an agreement which would be used to bring down the shogun.. Shintarō's next encounter was with the fiendish Fūma ninja and their quest for the lost Hōjō treasure. Here he met a wily and very dangerous adversary in Fūma Kotarō - both men respected each other's abilities and skills. Having defeated the Fūma and, supposedly, killed Kotarō at long last, his next assignment was to preserve the new Lord of Wakayama from the troubles surrounding his succession in Dec. 1789, which had been exacerbated by a plot to stir up the rival Kishū and Negoro ninja groups against each other. No wonder several times he considered entering a monastery, sickened by the slaughter and futility of it all, but changed his mind when he found there was a plot to assassinate certain key figures in the shogunate, including Tonbei, his friend. Behind this plot was the Lord of Owari and his old enemy, Fūma Kotarō. Having sorted out this problem, he then encountered the Puppet Ninja and their master Genshin. He also ran into Kotarō who pursued him like a cat with a mouse. Finally, in 1790, after a series of encounters with ninja of different schools sent against him by Kotarō, he went out in a boat with the master ninja, knowing he would probably not return, for one final deciding duel, leaving Tonbei and Shūsaku on the shore. He was not seen again.

He was about 25, somewhat above average height, handsome, round-faced and solemn of expression except when he smiled, something which was quite dazzling. He wore a pair of distinctive white hilted swords and usually just a kimono, though sometimes he wore a hakama over it. His hair was dressed in a shoulder-length ponytail.

He had a strong sense of fair play, kindliness to the weak or those in trouble noblesse oblige or bushi no nasake and of the value of human life and the worth of the individual. He was open, approachable and trustworthy, not cursed with the quick temper and arrogance of many samurai. He was possessed of sensitivity and feeling and was capable of profound thought. At times he had some radical ideas for his time, such as not seeking vengeance for the murder of one's father. Sometimes he was too trusting and was deceived but at other times showed himself a shrewd judge of character. On the other hand, his sense of humour needed work as it bordered on the childish at times. There was the time when lawfully challenged at a checkpoint for his pass, he gave the guards a real run around, saying, "I don't feel like showing it to you" or words to that effect when he could just as easily have handed it over as he had one. After all, they were just doing their job. or maybe this was the youthful exuberance of someone on an official mission with friends in very high places. At another time he casually tells his female companion that he might die that night and then says it was a joke, though she should be careful as people are after him. He was an expert swordsman and a superb athlete. Sometimes all the killing he had to do to uphold justice (or at any rate the shogun) sickened him. The first time this happened was after defeating the 13 Kōga ninja who were after Takeda Shingen's treasure. He even refused to help guard Sadanobu against attack by Genkūrō's ninja, preferring to go fishing (or rather laze about on the bank with a fishing rod nearby). Even Tonbei being attacked failed to shake him out of his mood, all he said to the assailants was, "That isn't very nice." Later on, he thought of giving up the sword and entering a monastery. He did not regard his efforts as anything more than a few drops in the scheme of things and said that another man like him would come along. Besides which, he and Tonbei had trained Shūsaku to be like them, to go round righting injustices and that Tonbei must not be concerned if he died.

Maki Fuyukichi ("Tonbei the Mist"): Born 28th November 1930 in Odate City in Akita Prefecture in northern Japan, died of cancer on 26 June 1998.. His real name was Machii Nobuyuki (some sources give his surname as Okamura). His father was a public servant and he was the second son of four boys and two girls. In 1948 he graduated from Odate Homei High School and entered the Budai Geijutsuin [Stage art academy]. In 1951 he dropped out and joined a theatre group, Zenshinza. In 1955 he transferred to another theatre troupe, the Bugeiza, for eight years. In 1960 he played the gang boss, "Captain KK" in the TV series, Kaiketsu Harimao directed by Funatoko Sadao. He next appeared in The Samurai and The New Samurai and became extremely popular along with Ōse Kōichi. He made his movie debut in the two spin-offs from the series, then he appeared in Watari the Ninja Boy in 1966,also directed by Funatoko. Since then he made a number of films, chiefly period pieces in which he played a sidekick, as well as modern-day dramas and also continued to appear in TV series. A critic wrote that his ageless, lithe body and clever acting style well suited him to the part of a sidekick. He later lived in Kyoto. He claimed not to find too arduous the constant exercise necessary to portray a ninja as he'd been a gymnastics champion at high school. More arduous for him had been learning to wear a period costume and a sword which he'd first done while with the Zenshinza.

"Tonbei the Mist": Dear old well-meaning Tonbei - generally known to some as 'Tonbei Missed' or 'Tonbei the Twit' who usually came thundering in just as Shintarō was sheathing his sword after slaying a dozen ninja. Glancing down at the corpses, Tonbei would do a splendid double-take and exclaim, "Ah! Fūma ninja!" apparently not realising he was "a day late and a dollar short" as the Americans say. Although not a comic character, he was the butt of a number of ninja jokes which went the rounds of Sydney schoolyards, none of which bear repeating.

Tonbei was a wiry man of indeterminate age with strong features and big, wide-spaced eyes and a wide mouth. He wore his hair in a top-knot and his head half-shaved. He was considered to be the best of the Iga ninja employed by the shogun to guard his castle (which rather made one wonder about the rest .... Tonbei was not always the most efficacious ninja, He was usually the one to be captured by enemy ninja and needed to be rescued by Shintarō or once even by Shūsaku. On the other hand he was a much better judge of character than Shintarō who could be rather naif at times. He was the one to see through the guises of various pretty ninja who played the damsel in distress and his suspicions were alway right on the money even if neither Shintarō nor Shūsaku listened to him and more or less told him he was being paranoid. . His teacher was Handayū of Nabari which is right in Iga country and he was born in Hojiro. He spent most of his life in the mountains and to him a boat on the water was a strange sight. He joined Shintarō during the latter's encounter with Genkūrō and his Iga ninja from Manji Valley and remained with him until the latter bade him farewell to go off with Fūma Kotarō/Kongō of Kōga, a parting which caused the ever-emotional Tonbei great pain. He became very attached to Shintarō and Shintarō's ward, Shūsaku, turning into something of an older brother figure for the boy, teaching him many things about life.

Though raised and trained as a ninja, he was usually very gentle and kind - though he could be ruthless at times with his enemies, until chided by Shintarō. He mellowed over the period of their time together and in many ways, with his more open display of feeling, he seemed more humanly fallible than Shintarō. He was loyal and dependable and saved Shintarō's life on a number of occasions and vice-versa.

Ōmori Shunsuke ("Shūsaku"): Not much information is available on this actor. He is still alive and there is an interview with him on the Senkōsha website in conjunction with the broadcasting of a re-mastered version of The Samurai in 2004. He was born in Tokyo on 18 October 1953. He joined a children's theatre troupe in first grade. He made his film debut in 1962 in something called Taiheyō sensō to Himeyuri Butai (Daiei). He won popularity in The samurai but retired from  show business in 6th grade. He now works for a construction company. in Tokyo. He appeared in nearly all the stories, as he had a minor role in the first story, as well as playing Shūsaku in all but The Iga Ninjas.

Baba Shūsaku was a boy of about 8 or 10, the son of Baba Nobukatsu, a descendant of Baba Nobufusa, a famous general of the Takeda clan, particularly of Takeda Shingen. Nobukatsu was kidnapped by Kōga ninja in their quest for the map of Takeda Shingen's treasure. Shintarō's attempts to help Shusaku find his missing father led to his involvement with the Kōga ninja. When found by Shintarō, Shūsaku was on his way to Edo to get help for his father, having left his home in the mountains of Kai Province (Yamanashi Prefecture) with his sole companion, a pet monkey. Deciding to help him, Shintarō took him with him back to Kai to try to find his father. At the end of The Koga Ninjas he was reunited with his family. In later stories when Shūsaku joined Shintarō and Tonbei, the former attempted to educate him between adventures, as befitted the son and descendant of samurai. (We see him practising calligraphy in Shintarō's home in Edo in one story). Tonbei and Shintarō became his family.

Shūsaku had a shrill voice and seemed forever to be screaming "Shintarō! Shintarō!" with good reason. He was often menaced or taken as hostage by various ninja - more fools them as that boy was a grade-A pain. Thus he was often in need of rescuing, though in the story which introduced him, he showed himself brave and resourceful as he did in Black Ninjas..

At one stage he wanted to become a ninja like Tonbei but thought better of it when he came to realise how essentially futile and heartless such an existence was.

Amatsu Bin ("Fūma Kotarō, Kongō of Kōga"; "Gensai the Wolf"; "Genzō the Spider"). Born on 16th February 1921 and died 24th July 1979. He was born in a small village in Miyagi Prefecture. He came of a long line of school teachers and graduated from Miyagi Prefectural Normal School and took up teaching in a prefectural primary school. During World War II, he joined the navy at Yokosuka. After being demobbed, he found he disliked the life of a teacher because of the changeover in the education system at the time and so he went to Tokyo. There he helped out at the iron foundry owned by his wife's family (he married Kaneko in 1944) while, intending to become an actor. His first film appearance was in Hokkai no Tora ["Tiger of the North Sea"] where he had a bit part as a sailor. That was in 1953. In 1955 he took part successfully in KRT's (now TBS) auditions and appeared the same year in the TV drama Edo no kagebōshi ["Shadows of Edo"]. In 1956 he played the chief villain, "Akizuki Samonta", in the period TV drama, Kurama Tengū, for KRT which ran for several years. He continued to appear in TV series even, in 1960,doing some of the Japanese dubbing for The Texas Rangers. Then came The Samurai and the role which was to mark the type of role he would play ever onwards and for which his name would become synonymous - Fūma Kotarō, the master ninja. So popular was the character that it became almost a semi-regular and Amatsu repeated variants of the role in the two movie spin-offs. Afterwards, he and Maki Fuyukichi appeared in the Fuji TV series, Kamen no ninja: Akakage ["Red Shadow, the masked ninja"] in 1967,which indicated how much the importance of those two to that type of ninja show had been recognised. Amatsu went on to appear in Tōei's series of yakuza films and one critic claimed that he cannot be ignored in any discussion of those films. He also appeared in a number of ninja and fantasy films throughout the 60s. He made a good number of films, either yakuza films or period pieces, usually playing the villain, occasionally a 'good guy'. He also appeared in karate films and modern-day actioners. In 1976 he broke new ground by appearing in NHK's television version of the novel, Hi no kuni ni ["In the Country of Fire"]. (NHK is the Japan's equivalent of the BBC). He appeared as the "Catfish Monster" in an episode of Monkey entitled "Catfish Monster, Saint and Shapechanger" (1978). His last TV appearance was as a detective in the telefilm, Ikite ita shibijin byōin gisō satsujin ["Living dead beauty - disguised hospital murderer''] which was broadcast 25th August 1979. His last film appearance was as a military officer in Toei's Dōran, released early 1980. He was also in the US-Japanese co-production, Bushido Blade as "Baron Zen" who stole said blade for his master, Lord Yamato, and later duelled the hero, katana versus sabre. Interestingly, William Ross, who dubbed "Shintarō" played Commodore Perry's aide in this film.

On 24th July 1979,at 2 am, Amatsu died of heart failure at the Yokohama City University Hospital. He was 58. His sudden death prompted one reader to write to Japan's most influential film magazine, Kinema Junpō, to say that as a player of villains, Amatsu had never been surpassed and a critic commented that his portrayal of Fūma Kotarō had left a strong impression on many people as had his later portrayals of virtual incarnations of evil in Tōei's yakuza films. He went on to say that his death was a loss to Japanese cinema as there was no player of villains with his appeal. As others had, he spoke of his voice (which was singularly deep and menacing) and his tall, thin body, and his facial features as being something special which made it unlikely that there would be anyone to replace him. In fine, he seems to have been a type of Japanese Christopher Lee (minus the horror roles). Like most screen villains in private life he was quite the opposite of his film roles, living quietly with his family in Kamakura, and doing such domestic things as seeing to household repairs himself, laying down water and drainage pipes in his house, making a dog kennel and bathing his young grandson. His eldest son had to endure a certain amount of teasing at school because his father was "that villain Amatsu Bin", but it was all in jest. Amatsu was survived by two sons (the elder of whom, Hiroshi, works for a shipping firm in Osaka, and a daughter, as well as his widow.

Fūma Kotarō

"Fūma Kotarō "

Arguably the most popular of the villains in The Samurai, he appeared in two thirteen part stories (Fuma Ninjas and Fuma Ninjas Continued) dealing with the search for the Hōjō treasure. Fūma Kotarō was the head of the Fūma ninja and a descendant of one of Japan's most famous ninja (one of the few mentioned in old historical sources), Fūma Kotarō Nobuyuki, beheaded in 1603 by order of Tokugawa Ieyasu. There was a legend that one day that other Fūma Kotarō would return from the dead, so when Kotarō appeared in a gust of wind before his ancestor's gravemarker, the poor chaps sweeping up the leaves in the cemetery thought the legend had come true and were terrified out of their wits. However, Kotarō merely tossed them some coins as a reward for keeping the grave tidy over the years. Kotarō's various entrances and departures were designed to enhance his spooky, almost witch-like character. Like his ancestor, he was very tall, taller than most of the other characters, with a mask-like face, pale and fine-boned with long, narrow, piercing dark eyes beneath fine arching eyebrows, one of which had a break in the hairline where a sword must have cut it. He usually wore a hood over his hair and a purple and gold brocade jinbaori (surcoat) over his ninja costume. His hair had a white streak through it and it was worn brushed loosely back and tied at the nape of his neck where it hung in a foxtail down his back, like an 18th century European. His movements, despite his height, were quick and agile, like a cat's. He was an excellent swordsman, and had an aura of great, controlled power and menace about him. He seemed to have supernatural powers at times in his ability to know what others were doing or thinking even at a distance. One also recalls him muttering over the mirrors that were part of the clues to the whereabouts of the Hōjō treasure "Water calls wind; wind calls fire; fire calls water" in order to track down mirrors not in his possession and his face appearing as if by magic in the mirror he was after, in the possession of a girl living on a houseboat who claimed to have seen "a horrible face" in her mirror (no taste, that female).

Kotarō had a younger sister, Oboro, (Saga Naoko) who was also a ninja. She had the misfortune to fall in love with Shintarō and defied her brother's wrath to set him free. She betrayed the group's whereabouts to Shintarō by leaving a trail of shuriken stuck in tree trunks in the belief that by thus stopping her brother's quest, she would save the family and group from ruin. Later, believing her brother dead when all the Fūma were destroyed, she became a nun at a Buddhist convent in Odawara. In the final episode, she found the badly wounded Kongō on the riverbank and took him for her brother, so strong was the resemblance. She rescued him and brought a doctor to tend his wounds after he had been shot by another ninja in an ambush by the river. (Incidentally, Kongōís suffering in this sequence is quite startlingly graphic) That Kotarō, despite the dread and and awe which he inspired in his enemies and some of his followers, genuinely cared for her was evident in that he was willing to trade a valuable hostage to get her back from Shintarō and Tonbei when she was captured by them.

He respected Shintarō as an enemy and on one occasion, he invited him to join with him, treating him with due respect for his rank, offering him drink and being hospitable, and showing the esteem in which he held him, yet without being in any way servile, as one exceptional man to another. Kotarō was a haughty, lordly person who was usually rather pre-emptory with. samurai.

He was  killed by Shintarō, after a terrific duel in the snow in a solfala valley, blowing himself while mortally wounded with the Hōjō treasure.

Kongō of Kōga

        his ninja look     his rōnin look

Somewhat later due to popular demand, Amatsu was brought back as another master ninja  in  Phantom Ninja with the title 'Kongō of Kōga'. 'Kongō', though it can be translated as 'champion', is a Buddhist term meaning the vajra or thunderbolt, a symbol of power. According to The Samurai, this was a title conferred on the ninja voted the most skilled by the 53 Kōga ninja families and was a very prestigious title.. This was no doubt to underline his status as 'super-ninja'.

In this story, he used a group of seven Phantom Ninja to carry out a series of assassinations in Edo for the mysterious 'Lord of Night' ('Kurayami no gotairō'). After the seven were killed (two at his hands),  he continued to operate as a lone wolf after Shintarō's blood. After sending various schools of ninja to kill Shintarō, he resolved to go alone with him to a final duel. He rowed the boat with Shintarō, as the sole passenger out to sea into the sunrise, leaving Shūsaku, Koshinjo, Oboro and Tonbei farewelling Shintarō from the shore. He cast one look back then faced Shintarō and continued rowing.

As Kongō he looked rather younger.. His face was less mask-like and more a fine-boned, pale oval capable of a wide range of expression and dominated by those piercing long, dark eyes and a thin, well-shaped mouth which he had a habit of twisting down at the corners in a way that was most distinctive, particularly when speaking of Shintarō, whose name he would spit out venomously. He usually wore a totally black ninja costume, even the undershirt, while his hair was dressed in a topknot.

He was a skilled swordsman with a distinctive style which Shintarō, was able to recognise when Kongō was in disguise on one occasion. Many of the special tricks, perfected individually by other ninja he could perform. One of the most effective was his skill with disguise and mimicry. Several times he fooled Shintarō into thinking he was someone else. At one time, it seemed that half the population of Tokugawa Japan was Kongō in disguise. He was a great one for leaping into (or out of) trees or ceilings to taking long flying leaps across the landscape.

He was cunning and devious, fearless, intelligent, with lots of style and class which set him apart from most of the other ninja. He had a marvellous, slightly condescending manner which he employed when speaking to his employer, the Lord of Night. One felt that the lord may have bought Kongō's services but he had not bought Kongō himself. Kongō did not take rebuke from the lord in the best feudal tradition as he grimaced and later referred to it somewhat scornfully.. He was good and he knew it. He was equally scornful with other ninja, especially those who gave themselves airs of superiority such as the Puppet Ninja.

He was persuasive - he knew how to use the ninja he had and to get others to do what he wanted. He was respected by others of his profession and feared by some, particularly among the shogun's Iga ninja. He could be ruthless in attaining his ends. He did not hesitate to kill a few innocent bystanders simply so he would be arrested and put in gaol so he could arrange a breakout of all the criminals within its walls. This was all part of a plan to discredit Matsudaira Sadanobu. Even disguised as he was, as a scruffy rōnin, wearing a shabby kimono, hakama and haori and barefoot with it, some of his natural class and superiority came through when he was taken inside the gaol. His height, haughty, regal bearing and the somewhat supercilious manner he had when attempting to bribe a guard into giving him a cup of water in return for one of his stolen gold coins were quite in keeping with the manner of a déclassé samurai but they were typical of Kongō himself.

He could be patient in waiting to strike and could pursue a goal with typical ninja single-mindedness - the difference was that, with one exception, he was working for himself and his own ends.

There seemed to be a complexity in his character. He was seen to be intelligent and did not make the usual stupid mistakes villains do in serials. He had more than the usual quota of ninja skills. and a corkscrew mind to go with it. He would save Shintarō so he could kill him himself in The Puppet Ninja but by Contest of Death he was quite happy to let others try to kill him, indeed arranged it that way. His only problem was with a rogue ninja who interfered. That was not on in his book. Shintarō was to be killed by the rules of the contest or not at all. So he warned Shintarō who was completely baffled by his psychology. (Though why when he'd been dealing with master ninja for several years and being bonkers seemed to have been part of the person specification).  The slightly ambiguous ending made one friend think that Kongō had gone off with Shintarō in lieu of Tonbei, "At last Shintarō has got himself a decent ninja," he declared.

Both Fuma Kotaro and Kongo of Koga are also well remembered by Australian fans, usually as the master ninja they do recall. Altogether Amatsu appeared in all but Ninja Terror. His first appearance was as a rōnin sidekick to the loanshark Hidaya in Spy Swordsman. His next role, also in Spy Swordsman,  was an unusual one, for him. He played a sympathetic blind samurai travelling with his little daughter to whom he was devoted. His third appearance was the villainous Kōga ninja, Genzō the Spider over two episodes of Koga Ninjas, who had no redeeming features at all. Next came the role of Gensai the Wolf, Momochi Genkūrō's second in command. This was more substantial as it continued over the 13 episodes of Iga Ninjas and into the Black Ninjas where he was the de facto main villain since the real one's true identity was not revealed until near the end. He was seen in a number of disguises as well as on horseback and in numerous sword fights. Then came the role which made him famous, Fūma Kotarō in Fuma Ninjas and Fuma Ninjas Continued. The next story, Ninja Terror was an Amatsu-free zone but he was back with a vengeance as the super-ninja, Kongō of Kōga in which role he continued until the end of the whole series.

Gensai the Wolf

Katsuki Toshiyuki ("Kiba Jinjūrō"; "Momochi Genkūrō"): Not much is known about this actor beyond his appearance as the hero of the series, Kaiketsu Harimao in 1960, directed for Senkōsha Productions by Funatoko Sadao, and his appearance as two major villains in The Samurai. He seems to have disappeared shortly after.

"Kiba Jinjūrō" A retainer of the Matsumae fief in Ezo (Hokkaido) who wanted to prove his loyalty to his lord by removing Shintarō who had come to investigate his lord, a sore point with that noble. The two eventually confronted each other in a duel, though Shintarō asked him: "Why? I have no quarrel with you?" Kiba lost. He was proud, peppery and fanatical, though fair-minded and just in his dealings with the ordinary people.

"Momochi Genkurō" and his men

The head of 10 Iga ninja, he was described as the best swordsman in Japan and one of the best ninja. He also was a master of disguise and had many "magic" ninja tricks. He also seemed to have a phenomenal memory, as he was given to reciting all the towns on the Tokaido in the area where the episode was set, at the start (most helpful of him for the viewer), explaining where Sadanobu and his party were, where they were going to go and so on.. Did this man work for Gregory's or was he a walking GPS? Next time I have to go to a rabbit or cat show at some strange suburb in Sydney's north, I want Momochi as navigator. He and his group came from the Manji Valley where the ninja were particularly good. He was another ninja who was aware of his own worth. He was arrogant, cocky, quick-tempered but with the skill and the intelligence to back it up.

His trouble was he was too good and he was born too late. He belonged to the 16th century's civil wars when ninja were in their heyday, able to use their skills to the fullest. One as good as he was would have been in great demand and been famous and very powerful, as master ninja Onime Dōgan noted. Moreover, he was descended of the famous Momochi Sandayū mentioned earlier. Genkūrō complained bitterly about ninja not being able to use their full potential in his day and age, pouring scorn in his mocking way, on a young ninja who used his skills to dive for fish.

So he decided to remedy this state of affairs by bringing down the Tokugawa shogunate through killing Councillor Matsudaira Sadanobu on orders from the Lord of Owari for whom he was working. However, his plans went further. He knew that Owari could not hold the country and that civil war would ensue. This would restore the golden age of ninja and give them power (he spoke of giving land and rank to one young follower). He was as close to an idealist as any ninja ever came, since he wanted to restore ninja to their former glory, purpose and usefulness by turning back the clock. The other ninja were either working for the immediate goals of their lords or else had their minds on buried treasures.

His personal code of honour/ethics was also a little warped. Having sent a formal challenge to a duel to Shintarō, he was not above putting poison on his sword-blade so that even a slight wound would be fatal. In this duel Genkūrō used one of his repertoire of ninja tricks involving flaming torches which apparently moved by themselves. He was wounded in this encounter as well.. In an earlier episode, he seized a young boy to use as a shield. Anyone or anything could be sacrificed to achieve his ambition, even his own men, as he stated a few times. Having persuaded Suiki, the grandson of Dōgan to his cause, he had no compunction about killing him to incriminate Shintarō so Dōgan's wrath would be turned against the samurai. Unlike others, such as Gensai, or even Kongō of Kōga, he did not allow himself to be motivated by vengeance. Shintarō thwarted him on several occasions but he remained focused on his goal of restoring the ninja to their glory days and was not sidetracked into seeking out Shintarō to take revenge. This passion to revive the ninja fuelled his life and made him a little unstable, as several people such as Dōgan and Sadanobu considered him slightly mad or living a dream.

On another occasion, Genkūrō burst in on Dōgan, an old master ninja, who was meditating in a nearby temple and demanded that Dōgan help him When Dōgan refused, Genkūrō threatened to kill him. Then followed an extraordinary sequence where Dōgan remained exactly where he was, staring straight ahead, motionless, quite unarmed and sitting on the mat while Genkūrō stood to one side of him, sword raised. Although Dōgan did not move, Genkūrō seemed to find it impossible to strike - he was as if paralysed and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead and his eyes blazed. Then he suddenly broke free and dashed out of the house, claiming to his followers that Dōgan's four pupils tried to kill him and nearly succeeded..

Yet at the end, when he captured Sadanobu, he took him to a small boat and offered him the choice of committing suicide. When Sadanobu accepted, feeling that this was his fate, and asked Genkūrō to be his second, Genkūrō agreed gracefully. He treated Sadanobu with respect, addressing him as "My lord" and kneeling before him. He explained that he had no quarrel or grudge with the councillor but he had to die to fulfil Genkūrō's ambition of creating civil war. So he understood the concept of military honour for all his duplicity, even if he did not always practice it.

He met his own end shortly after this in a duel with Shintarō on the shore when Genkūrō, mortally wounded from Shintarō's sword thrown in his back, declared he has lost, cast down his own sword and pulled Shintarō's from his back. With it he committed harakiri, while still managing to stay on his feet, then fell face forward into the water, which rather adds a curious postscript to his life - a ninja who commits suicide in the samurai manner, using a samurai's own sword. All the other ninja had killed themselves by biting their tongues and/or slashing their faces with a shuriken. Perhaps it was a manifestation of his delusions of grandeur - he had some lordly airs, having lesser ninja hand him his sword or help remove part of a disguise, he spoke of handing out land to a follower, and was openly contemptuous of Owari's chances as leader - at one point one felt that he saw himself as a future shogun.

Genkūrō was small and dark-skinned with a doll-like face dominated by big, piercing black eyes under thick winged eyebrows with a sword scar between, which rather belied his delicate features and which gave his expression a certain intensity. He wore his hair in the usual mop and top-knot, and dressed in a black, rather than grey ninja suit, unlike the shogun's Iga ninja. If many of the master ninja were handsome, this one was downright sexy, a real "hottie" in the modern parlance as he had a lithe animal quality about him. Shame he was quite, quite bonkers.

Garyūdōshi (romanised in the gum cards as "Garidoshi") the chief Negoro ninja played by Yoshida Yoshio. He was a lithe, middle-aged ninja with a more than passing resemblance (in my eyes) to William Hartnell's Doctor Who except that his hair (worn in the same style) was black not silver. Those who thought Doctor #1 was cranky would have found him an angel in comparison with Garyūdōshi who was a fiend - cruel, cunning and utterly ruthless. He had no redeeming qualities that I recall at all yet he did have a tremendous presence which makes him memorable even now. When not in black ninja gear, he disguised himself as a Yamabushi (mountain ascetic) and went around terrorising people. His sidekick, Onime the Bat (actor unknown) was another one would not forget in a hurry. Bald, with only one eye, the missing one covered by a shuriken, he had a gargoyle face (the Negoro, generally speaking, were not an attractive bunch of ninja unlike the Kōga, Iga and Fūma) and an interesting trick of suddenly materialising from heaps of leaves and disappearing by drilling his body into the road.

Genshin (actor unknown) was the head of the Puppet Ninja. He was an old, white-haired man with a wispy beard. In fact, he was the oldest of the master ninja - and the strangest, muttering in a reedy voice, "The Puppets, the Puppets..." But he was still spry enough to present a threat to Shintaro - and Kongo.

One of the few master ninja who was not a villain was Onime Dōgan. He was an old man with long white hair and a moustache. He was so old, no one knew how old he was. He had white hair even in Tonbei's grandfather's time. He lived and taught in the Otogi Pass. He was called the guardian ninja by many of Tonbei's Iga and was considered the last of the true ninja as the long years of peace meant that ninja, who are trained to operate in time of war, were no longer properly trained. He had four pupils, one of whom was his grandson though the young man didn't know it. Dōgan took him on when the latter's parents left, having become sickened with the ninja way of life. He preferred to remain neutral in the conflict between Shintarō and Tonbei on the one hand and Genkūrō's group on the other. He considered it none of his business nor the business of his pupils. So he refused to help either. This satisfied Shintarō as it meant Genkūrō wouldn't benefit either. Dōgan considered himself somewhat above earthly things until he found he could be still moved to rage and to seek revenge when Genkūrō murdered his grandson. His philosophy as ninja was in stark contrast to the usual one presented in the series. He believed that the spirit of the ninja meant he should have a clean mind and uphold justice and not work for personal gain but help humanity. Shintarō commented that true ninja was a great and noble man. On the other hand Dōgan partook fully in master ninja weirdness. Apart from the incident with Genkūrō mentioned above, there was Shintarō's visit to ask him for his help in which he and Shintarō spent the entire afternoon staring at each other with not a word spoken.

A word must be said about master ninja - you don't have to be strange but it helps. One was left with the impression that after graduating with honours in ninjutsu, they then had to do a postgraduate diploma in weirdness. Fūma Kotarō was given to sitting in trees and cackling at passing samurai, or hiding in rocks and cackling at passing samurai, or materialising suddenly, looking baleful and only partly of this earth; Genshin, as mentioned above, muttered to himself, and looked and behaved like a demented Druid or King Lear on a bad day; both Garyūdōshi and Onime were odd ... the list goes on.

 

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