|Toshiro Mifune played Red Beard, benevolent clinic Doctor in Akira Kurosawa's film.|
Red Beard (1965)
d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #159
Oh shhhitttttt it's another Akira Kurosawa joint y'all.... I'll be honest. At times... I find the sheer number of Akira Kurosawa films in the Criterion Collection to be, shall we say, daunting. Kurosawa has 26 films in the Criterion Collection. I have seen... seven of them: Red Beard, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro and High and Low. You look at that list- all of the films except High and Low and this one are basically Samurai pictures. High and Low is a detective/crime/noir type film, and Red Beard, god bless it, is a three hour film about life in a 19th century free clinic
Toshiro Mifune, in his last role in a Kurosawa picture, plays the clinic head Red Beard, so called because he has a reddish beard. Yuzo Kayama plays Noburo Yasmuto, a hot shot young doctor (he's studied "Dutch medicine.") who is consigned to an internship at the clinic based on a secret agreement between his Dad and Red Beard. As the story unspools it turns out that Kayama was jilted by his fiance in Edo, and the decision to get him out of there was initiated by Red Beard himself.
Red Beard is packed with narrative incident. After the initial childish rebellion, Kayama settles down and comes of age after learning, you know, about feelings and junk. Red Beard was based on a novel and you can tell because of the diversity of narrative incident: death bed confessions, love affairs, a psycho sexual nymphomaniac, an entire family poisoning themselves; I could go on.
The Criterion Collection essay emphasizes the look of the film- apparently everything they used in terms of wood and scenery etc was actually old so that the film is "realistic" in the depiction of late 19th century Japan. I won't say that the richness of detail is lost on me exactly, but I kind of feel like that Japan basically looked the exact same between 1000 AD and the 20th century, so that part of Red Beard didn't strike me.