HanTheCan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Japanese cinema will never cease to amaze me, this is yet another phenomenal work from Japan.
Trying to summarize it or drawing comparisons would prove very difficult indeed, as this film crosses multiple genres. This is Metal Gear Solid the Samurai/Shinobi edition. But in cinematic terms it's closest to a J-P. Melville film, with the political intrigue of a Costa-Gavras and the thrill of the film noire and even a bit of Hitchcock, an espionage Samurai noire thriller.
A very challenging film indeed, but rewarding. After you've survived the quick historical background intro with many Japanese names, which is very important to understand the film and lays the groundwork for the plot and sets the rules of the universe of the story,
then you'll face a sheer amount of complexity and even more names, but it's not as many make it out to be and it's not that complex, and if you have troubles with the names just take a few notes.
When we take in all this dense information we're faced with another layer of depths that is philosophical in nature.
Our main protagonist is lost in a world where you can longer distinguish between friend or foe, a world of espionage, treachery double agents, corruption and betrayal, death follows him on every corner and on top of that we feel the looming shadow of war always haunting us, and yes it's "us" not just "him", our protagonist, because in this film we're thrown in blind just as he is, caught in this conflict, we just as he himself don't even know the intentions of his lord.
And this film also excels in technical terms, with a dreamlike nature sometimes and an intense thriller at others.
As Japanese is not my mother tongue it might be difficult to comment on the acting, but everyone felt real adding to the tensity of the atmosphere.
I cannot recommend this enough, just watch it!