erik reeds’s review published on Letterboxd:
it kinda becomes hard to say much "new" about something that's been scrutinized for decades like this, but one thing i will note here is that i really like how mifune's character basically has no development. the man is dedicated to clout from the start and dies like he wanted to, the last hero and in front of everyone. in some ways, he reminds me of michel from Breathless in this fashion, another character who dies just how he wants to and never changes his core ethos. for kikuchiyo, he is scrappy, cruel, rambunctious, and treacherous from the get-go, and kurosawa never attempts to actually change those traits or give him development beyond his backstory 3 hours in which we could have pretty easily predicted by the halfway point. it's a very nice touch and i think that's partially what makes his character in this so tragic: no mere battle to the death is going to cure him of his trauma or alter him significantly as a person - he merely uses the village battle as a vessel for it. when so many kurosawa protagonists (and, by extension, films themselves) are about growth and realization, kikuchiyo never grows or realizes anything. this sort of untreated depression that he rarely lets physically manifest in front of others makes this a much more difficult watch than i had remembered, as i hadn't really noticed how truly tragic his character was beforehand.
as far as the rest of the film goes, i wouldn't hesitate to call it one of the GOATs at all. shoots above High and Low, i would need to rewatch Ran to see if it's actually my favorite kurosawa.