Ryan Saylor’s review published on Letterboxd:
I am beyond offended that I've only ever heard this do talked about as "the warm up to Ran." This film more than stands on its own. More than that, the two films have completely different goals.
This film is all about the story of a thief who becomes king. Yes there are epic battles. Yes the colors are insane. But the thief is first and foremost and every other element is there to serve his story. And what a story it is.
Every scene is gripping. The man is constantly balanced on the edge of a knife as he goes about his daily life trying to not get found out. The smallest dialogue based scenes are as intense as any battle.
To be honest, I waited so long to watch this BECAUSE I'd only heard it talked about as the "warm up to Ran." I don't love Ran. I think its characters aren't fully realized and that it places too much emphasis on its action and forgets about other things that should matter. It's like Kagemusha was made for me. All of my problems from Ran aren't here. This film is FLESHED OUT and done in a way that is consistently interesting and engaging. And when we get to the huge finale, the stakes are so much more intimate. The final moments of this film reflect the difference in ideas between the two works.
Yet here I am still comparing them when I genuinely feel as if they shouldn't be. They are so very different. Watch this film. It's a brilliantly realized character piece on an epic scale with the technical choices to back it up. Great stuff.