A wandering ronin and his young son continue their journey through feudal Japan, taking contracts when afforded the opportunity and facing assassination with each step. This chapter seems dedicated to clarifying our disgraced samurai's complicated code of honor. Though he'll gladly slice through an almost unlimited number of strangers in battle, Ittō's vision isn't clouded by a perennial bloodlust. We see restraint in several dangerous situations, respect for principled opponents, loyalty to his word and, in the film's most memorable scene, a willingness to take vicious punishment in lieu of the innocently accused. The story feels more episodic than ever, with various scenes playing out like a classic movie serial and an unresolved conflict lingering at the credits. Given the rate at which they were churning these things out in the early '70s, maybe there's something to that. The action is reliably good, still fresh and creative after three feature-lengths, though the gigantic slaughter instigated at the climax (ambushed, Ittō single-handedly takes out fifty men and a trio of mounted officers) does stretch things a bit. Wise, then, that the film went back to basics almost immediately after, closing the action with an eerily quiet, respectful duel amidst the dust of that epic battlefield.