Told in flashback, this is a period thriller of spies and traitors, secret pasts and an uncertain future, honour, misfortune, ambition, tragedy, and ferocious battles in the Yojimbo tradition. The journalist narrator lends the movie a commendable docudrama tone, and Mifune is eminently watchable in yet another mesmerising performance, but I found this overly talky for a samurai picture. Director Kihachi Okamoto has an excellent eye for Tohoscope composition, making good use of close-ups and spectacular wide shots, and there's dynamic choreography evident in many of the action scenes, but characterisation is laboured here to the point of boredom. We learn early on (in fact it's mentioned in the packaging blurb!) that Niiro is the illegitimate son of a nobleman; so all that remains is for him to find this out for himself and make an effort to reclaim his birthright. The problem is, you see, it takes him far too long to catch on, and meantime there's not enough happening so the pace drags and fails to maintain interest.
Notable among the supporting cast is lantern jawed Yunosuke Ito as Hoshino, the rebel leader, but few of the other actor make a lasting impression. This sort of intrigue would have probably worked much better as a stage play. Perhaps it was, originally. Where the director has failed most is in the attempt to open out a story with so few action scenes.
DVD extras: star and director biographies, stills gallery, scene finder in eight chapters, multi-colour English subtitles by AnimEigo, pictures of other releases from Warrior, but no trailers.