Director Hiroshi Teshigahara said that he intended the film to explore both personal and cultural identities. While the examination of personal identity is quite overt, Teshigahara also explored how Japan's cultural identity had been impacted by World War II and its aftermath.
During its initial release, the film was generally poorly received by critics in Japan and the United States. It also received an extremely limited release in the United States and remained unseen by American audiences for many decades. Modern film critics have warmed to the film and its merits, and now consider it a major example of the quality of Japanese films from the 1960s.