I had been waiting a very long time for this movie to be released in my area, so when the time came I was fairly excited. Often, when I expect a lot out of a movie I am disappointed and end up hating something that may not deserve it. In this case, however, it lived up to and exceeded my expectations. The story line, character development, framing, pacing and action were all absolutely top-notch in my opinion. The film stands as a stark contrast to many other movies set in the same time period in Japan and beyond that it also possesses a very universal appeal. It reminded me of other good dramas in its tone (at times even a bit like the film "In America") and it had funny moments as well as heart-wrenching sadness throughout. It was effective without being too melodramatic, and did a wonderful job of enticing the viewer to empathize with the main character. From a martial arts standpoint I thought that the techniques used were very realistically applied and not at all outside of the realm of what samurai in this time period would have been doing. The fights were tense but very realistic. The last duel was stylized to a greater degree, reminding me of certain moments in Kurosawa's films and by extension certain Kabuki influences. All in all it was a very strong film. It's deep enough that it could stand up to repeated viewing, and in the way of subtititled films it would actually get better each time. Even if the story doesn't interest you it would be worthwhile to see it for the natural beauty of the location and the shots anyway. One of the finest films about feudal Japan that I have seen, and one of the best films I've seen at all.