The Iga and Kougan Clans: Shinobi (movie) vs Basilisk (anime)

My fascination with the Iga and Kouga clans started several years back. This was when I got involved in an online group game started by the Filipino-Japan forum I was in.

I found out that the two clans actually exists in feudal Japan and that they were warriors of amazing skills. Though I was not among those completely fascinated with the ninja genre I was completely enthralled with the historical facts embedded into the legends of the Iga and Kouga clans. It was in my search for more information about these clans that I found out about the anime series “Basilisk” which was based on the 1958 novel by Futaro Yamada titled “The Kouga Ninja Scroll”.

The novel was made into a manga series created by Masaki Segawa titled Basilisk, which was later followed by another manga series titled “The Yagyu Ninja Scroll”. The manga was converted into an anime series in 2005 under Gonzo studios. And later that year, a movie called “Shinobi” came out which was also based on the legend of the Iga and Kouga clans.  Much of the Kouga and Iga stories were embellished with exaggeration and fantastical tales of superhuman feats. However, some things  were kept factual such as….

> There exists in reality the Iga and Kouga and they were indeed skilled warriors.  Historical records state that certain individuals or families from the Iga/Kouga or modern the Mie/Omi regions were noted for possessing specific skills.

> The Iga/Kouga regions were generally accepted by historians as the birth of Ninjitsu or as it was properly called in olden times “shinobi”.  Because of their special skills the shinobi were often employed by the ruling feudal lords for their own purposes. Often when an Iga clan is employed by one side the opposing side is more than likely to employ the Kouga clan. Thus, the much read about rivalry between the two clans.

> Because of the remoteness of the regions they inhabit both clans were able to hone and perfect their individual special skills without regulations from the ruling lords. The shinobi warriors were made up most of ordinary people forced to take up arms to defend themselves against oppression from this or that lord. However it is not uncommon to find a disgraced lord among the shinobi, the region of the Iga/Kouga clan became a refuge for people who wanted to get away from the oppressive rule of the samurai nobilities.

> Both the Kouga and Iga clans were employed during the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate; the Iga were made the personal/closed in guards of the Emperor while the Kouga acted as the perimeter guards.

Movie and Anime

Both the movie and the anime series were closely adapted to the above stated facts. For this reason they have a lot of things in common and some pronounced differences.

Comparisons:

– Both the movie and the anime stated that the two clans were forced to enter into a “pact of no hostility” after Hotahori Hanzou invaded the regions and nearly wiped out the Iga clans. They were then employed into the service of the emperor. This was evident in both the movie and the anime however it was more comprehensively explained in the anime.

–  Danjou (Kouga leader)  and Ogen (Iga chieftess) were former lovers. They were star crossed lovers looking forward to the agreement between the clans to be meted out so they can finally reveal their affair to their families. However, a fateful attack by Oda Nobunaga with the assistance of the Kouga clan sealed their fate forever.  Without his knowledge the Kouga assisted in the attack to the Iga Tsubagakure, Ogen was unable to forgive him for the lost of her family and people thus ended their affair. But Danjou never gave up on achieving peace between the two clans so after the peace pact was made, Danjou allowed his adopted grandson, Gennosuke, to be engaged to Ogen’s granddaugther, Oboro. This however was not clearly stated in the movie.

– That Oboro and Gennosuke was actually engaged to be married prior to the fight to the death that happened between the clans.

– Among the ruling lords a conflict has started between the supporters of the two grandsons and apparent heirs of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the retired shogun. At the time, the ruling lords have also become concerned with the peace between the clans thus allowing both sides to hone their skills enough to perform almost superhuman feats. In order to hit two birds with a single stone, so to speak, Ieyasu decreed that a battle between the two clans shall decide who shall be designated as the next shogun following his son, Hidetada. The Iga shall fight for Iemitsu, the elder son while the Kouga shall fight for the younger son, Tadanaga. However shall win the battle will decide the next shogun when Hidetada retires.

– Ogen and Danjou were summoned to Sunpu castle and were told to bring their best warriors with them during the meeting with the shogun. There their warriors were made to demonstrate their skills. It was also then that Ieyasu told them of the planned contest to decide the next shogun and so both leaders were asked to list down on identical scrolls the names of 10 of their best warriors. In the movie, probably due to time constraints the battle consisted of only 5 warriors. The shinobi will fight to the death and the defeated/dead ninja’s name will then  be crossed out from the scroll using blood. Now, the viewer may think this is absurd but the shinobi actually looked forward to the battle. Even though they have been at peace for many years the rivalry between the clans were too deeply rooted in their blood that any chance of being able fight the other to the death was welcome by either side.

– Ogen and Danjou were the first casualties of the battle. They killed each other even before they left Sunpu and thus it was left to their warriors to deliver the news to their respective clans. In the movie, the scrolls arrive on both clans whereas the anime showed the pains and the treachery that took place even before the scrolls reached Oboro and Gennosuke.  Because the anime was longer it was able to better explain and elaborate many of the circumstances that the movie was not able to make probably due to time constraints.

– The movie failed to properly develop the characters in the series most especially, the kunoichi (female ninja). It failed to show the emotional attachments between Hotarubi and Yashamaru. I personally would have loved to see more of Hotarubi in the movie considering she was portrayed by Erika Sawajiri, but even if her appearance in the movie was short Hotarubi effectively served as the turning pointing for Oboro’s character. The movie also failed to show the relationship between Okoi and Saemon (siblings)…actually the movie only showed Saemon, Okoi was completely taken out from the film but it would have been nice to see how they would present her skills as her entire body is likened to a leech that sucks the blood on any exposed skin of the enemy that she is able to touch. Okoi is able to adhere her skin onto her opponent’s and then absorb their blood into herself; leaving her enemies as dried up husks. Upon completion, Okoi must then vomit out the excess blood before she can use the technique again. As more contact equals faster blood drain she is dressed in a more revealing manner than the other kunoichi with a hip length sleeveless kimono and shortened hakama. Needless to say, she is one very interesting character, too bad we didn’t see her in the movie.  Another kunoichi which I would have loved to see in the movie was Akeginu, she was the bodyguard and confidant of Oboro. A highly attractive woman, Akeginu  is representative of the historically accurate version of the kunoichi in her ability to use her sex appeal against the opposite sex. In combat, her technique enables her to secrete blood from her pores which she can then squirt into an opponents face to blind them or to create a fine mist which grants her the cover to move and attack in complete stealth. Her technique can also be used to “tag” an opponent who specializes in covert movement.

– Although we saw Koshirou in the movie as the hand scythe bearing Iga shinobi, the movie was not able to use or show his other ability. Koshirou’s technique enables him to create miniature whirlwinds with his breath which suck his enemies in and then shreds them to pieces.

– Other characters that were taken out of the film were Azuki Rousai. Rousai is a short statured man with an even shorter temper and is an elderly man with massive gourd-shaped head; he is a highly skilled martial artist whose punches and kicks are capable of felling trees and smashing rocks with one blow. As such, he’s one of the few characters who specializes in unarmed combat. Additionally, Rousai’s ninja technique enables him to stretch and contort his limbs in fantastic ways.  Another character not seen on the film was Jingoro, he is one of the few Iga ninjas who specialize in assassination rather than combat, preferring to sneak up on his opponents and being quick to flee once he suffers a disadvantage. He is also able to dissolve into a viscous semi-liquid form; enabling him to slither through the tightest of passages, ooze his way up vertical surfaces, and silently creep onto his target to deliver the killing stroke. We also missed to see Kazamachi Shogen, a grotesque and malformed hunchback with long gangly limbs and oversized hands and feet which grant him the agility and dexterity of a spider; and Jimushi Junbei, a living torso. Jubei lacks both arms and legs but is able to move by flexing his chest muscles to manipulate the armor plates sewn onto his tunic, allowing him to slither along the ground at extremely high speeds. He also has a metal tail attachment which he can use to deflect weapons and control himself as he moves. In place of arms, Jubei has trained his tongue to extend out of his mouth to manipulate objects as well as to draw and attack with the dagger he keeps sheathed inside his esophagus. He is gifted in astrology, which he uses to predict the Kouga’s future with surprising accuracy. His end is met by the revived Tenzen, who sees past his only weapon and slices him in half.

I will not divulge how the movie or the anime ended. This you will have to find out for yourself. I will however say that the ending differ greatly and will be up to you to decide which ending you refer.

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