Ishikawa Goemon is the poster boy for why it never pays to think of others before yourself. Just look at him! Everything he does for the sake of others gets someone killed—either the people he’s trying to help, or (in the end) himself.
When we first meet the master ninja-turned-thief, he’s pulling a Robin Hood stunt and emptying the coffers of a fat cat politician in order to shower the wealth over a plaza full of townspeople gathered for some festival. For his charity work, what does he get? He’s gotta dodge a crap ton of arrows and fight off a bunch of useless guards, and he comes out of the whole deal with the equivalent of pennies on the dollar. He goes to a brothel and some broad pays his way because he’s broke! Come on. Guy’s got it good, but it’s always better to be self-sufficient than to be stuck relying on someone else. At least he knows how to take credit for his own achievements—none of that ‘mysterious benefactor from the shadows’ shit.
Part of the treasure Goemon steals and distributes is a beautiful, but empty, blue box. In his hurry to single-handedly and arbitrarily re-distribute wealth, he tosses this out at the crowd as well, and a young pickpocket snatches it up. With this act of kindness, Goemon sets into motion a series of events that leads to the boy’s mother being murdered, the boy becoming a murderer himself, and a whole lotta emo tears for his sidekick/servant Sarutobi Sasuke who recognizes that it’s all Goemon’s fault.
Anyway, Goemon takes the box back from the kid and is pursued by Saizo, a so-called skilled ninja with a fearsome reputation (I could still kick his ass). They have a duel in a ridiculous CGI field, and Goemon gets his ass handed to him by Saizo. Luckily for the thief, he’s saved from death by the appearance of Hattori Hanzo, the man who trained both Goemon and Saizo in the ways of the ninja. After a montage that shows how “brutal” and “strict” ninja training was, you find out that Goemon and Saizo were raised together—sounds familiar—and were friends until Goemon traipsed off to become a do-gooder and Saizo started his brown-nosing quest to be granted a samurai title. You also find out Goemon has the hots for Princess Chacha, but let himself be caged in by the rules of society like a pussy instead of just growing a pair and pursuing her. So, she’s off somewhere living in luxury and he pines after her like a lovesick loser whenever he sees a firefly.
Turns out the box hid a map, and when Goemon follows the map (and Hanzo follows Goemon), they discover a very incriminating contract. Hanzo, who is working for Tokugawa Ieyasu, buys the contract from Goemon.
Everything is tied to a political power struggle—everyone wants to be the ruler of Japan.
Goemon and Saizo worked for Nobunaga Oda until he was killed and they parted ways, and Saizo’s current master, Mitsunari, was plotting to kill Toyotomi Hideyoshi who took over after Nobunaga’s death. Tokugawa, meanwhile, was making his own play using the incriminating contract. The box had unearthed an agreement signed by both of Nobunaga’s generals when they made a pact to kill their leader—and one of the two names was Hideyoshi, the current ruler of Japan. He betrayed the other general to seize power for himself and to paint himself as the man who brought Nobunaga’s killer to justice. What a hot, boring, political bullshit mess. This is where ambition gets you if you’re not strong or smart enough (as in not me) to stay on top: sooner or later, someone comes along and nails that big fat target on your back.
Goemon, enraged by this new information, decides to assassinate the ruler of Japan. No big deal. He waltzes in and does the deed, only to discover that Princess Chacha is now living there, and also that he only killed Hideyoshi’s lookalike. Pesky things, those doubles. A lot of weak ninjas rely on ninpo magic to try and trick people, but me and my cyber eye know better than to fall for that shit.
More double-crossing and political underhandedness happens, but you can sit through that snoozefest if you want to see all of the predictable back-stabbing and failed attempts at back-stabbing. Saizo attempts to assassinate Hideyoshi for Mistunari so that he can become a samurai—also known as lame—but fails and is thrown under the bus by Mitsunari. Goemon, again doing stupid uncalled-for heroic deeds, rescues Saizo from torture and causes Saizo’s wife to be murdered in retribution. Then, Saizo turns himself in and Hideyoshi literally tosses both Saizo and Saizo’s infant child into a giant vat of boiling liquid. Nice going, Goemon.
Overcome with grief and rage, Goemon finally kills the real Hideyoshi and ends up starting a huge war over who will take his place. Mitsunari and Tokugawa pit their armies against each other, but Goemon runs through the battlefield and ends the fighting by killing Mitsunari. All of Mitsunari’s troops flee because they think Goemon is some kind of god who can control the sun (these fools didn’t realize it was an eclipse), and then Goemon gets himself stuck like a pig because he just has to deliver a plea for peace… in person… with his sword out and swinging… to the leader of an army on a battlefield. Now, I don’t do this whole peace thing, but that doesn’t sound quite right.
If only Ryu was that stupid and all I had to do was sit and wait for him to throw himself on my sword like Goemon.
Moral of the story, kids: be strong, but use your strength for yourself—not for others. You’ll have loads more fun.