This is an exceptional samurai film from a little bit past the genre’s early heyday, that manages to do nearly everything right. I have only one criticism, but it feels like a minor one given the overall quality of the film.
I haven’t seen a lot of samurai films recently and I have never seen any of the classic era samurai films more than once. So my first point of comparison is spaghetti westerns rather than samurai films. And, at least in this case, the comparisons feel legion. Though this came out after the “Man with No Name” trilogy, it feels so similar from a film perspective. That is, of course, because all four movies were inspired by the same films. (Also, Kobayashi probably made more than one of the films that inspired Leone’s films. I’m just less familiar with Kobayashi’s filmography.) The film has everything you’re looking for from a classic samurai film or a spaghetti western: long-drawn out tension, crazy close-ups, a distinct, wild score, and lots of violence. Only with this film it takes its time getting to the violence, and that is one of its virtues. This film is deliberately paced, so much so that it might put some people off.
The plot might put some people off, too, but that’s pretty typical of these films: there is some absurd conflict of honour/right and wrong. In this case, it’s less absurd than some, which is another reason why I think of spaghetti westerns, too. But still, the demands and “tyranny” may make you go crazy before the titular “rebellion.” (It’s just two people rebelling.) But if you’re willing to wait, or if you’re willing to let the film do its thing, the violence at the end is the cathartic release of tension that so many other films wish they could achieve.
There are some pretty incredible shots in the film and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these shots and scenes are among the most iconic within all samurai films.
By biggest issue is runtime, and not actually in how long it takes for the action to start but rather in how long it takes for the final duel to end. That scene, though quite nice to look at, takes a little bit too long for me. (Rather, what happens at the end takes a little too long.) But this is a minor nitpick.
On the whole, it’s pretty damn impressive and is up there with the best samurai films that came before it.