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It is common knowledge that many things changed for Kurosawa after this film. A breakdown, the loss of working friendship with Mifune, funding difficulties...etc...but with all the changes that followed the completion of Red Beard, while watching I couldn't help notice that everything was ironically in bloom. Akira Kurosawa's direction was never better, Mifune never acted better and at it's core Red Beard tells a story borrowed heavily form Dostoevsky, thus making this a labour of love. This film is flawless in many respects, if you're a film student, such as myself, you can take everything and pick it apart and find...The story is a simple one, a wise and determined doctor impresses a young ambitious doctor into learning what humanity is and how it exists all around us and that without it we are nothing. It tells of humanity through children and adults and the lowest depths of human existence. Some have argued the subject was a little too heavy handed but Kurosawa has always maintained that sometimes heavy handedness is needed especially for those who don't get it with a slap. In my opinion, there are periods in every artists career when they are at their best. Miles Davis was at his best before his breakdown, but the breakdown was bound to happen after creating and giving so much. I feel this is what happened to Kurosawa, he gave all that he could give and with this film, if you truly study it and study it well, (the DVD version comes with an exceptional commentary) you will find that this is one of the most finely crafted films in cinematic history, in fact as far as direction goes, it is difficult for me to think of one better directed. Fellini's best, Ozu's best, Coppola's best, Welles' best, Antonioni, Visconti, De Sica, Goddard, Renoir, Melville, Erice, you name it, watch their best with the sound off take note of the direction then compare it with RED BEARD. You will be left breathless. Kurosawa is a GREAT among the GREATS. This is visual poetry. Kurosawa's great directorial swan song. Bittersweet, for after RED BEARD something within Akira profoundly changed.
This film is practically never mentioned when Akira Kursawas best films
are listed. I think this film should be at least one of the first three
of such a list! I do love most of his films very much and my private
choice of his best film is always this one. I saw it only once, maybe
20 years ago, but the memory of it is still very strong,. Some scenes
burned their image into my mind forever! When I saw it at a small art
house cinema here in Vienna, Austria, it was like a lovely dream you
want to go on and on. I left the cinema thinking I just saw the best
film of my life.
True, it not comparable with the story telling masterpiece Rashomon or the complex Seven Samurai. The film does not feature new ways of telling a story. But I think it is Kurosawas most human legacy in a body of work which is rich of statements on humanity. and human weaknesses and strengths. Looking at any list of current films in the cinemas today one can only wish there would be much more films like Red Beard. Films like that can influence the way we see the world, like the current films packed with violence already do. It would be a much better world for sure!
I don't go so far as to single out any part of the story. I would wish every one would see the film as I did, knowing nothing about it except the title and the director. The film speaks for itself.
Red Beard marked the end of an era for Kurosawa. It was the last of his period costume dramas (excluding Ran and Kagemusha, though these were more of a glorious revisit to his 'old' style anyhow), the last film he shot in black and white, and the last film he ever made with Toshiru Mifune, thus ending what is, to me at least, the finest director-actor pairing in the history of cinema. Perhaps it is for these reasons that I look on this film with so much fondness, and it remains one of my favourite Kurosawa films (alongside Ran and Rashomon). That aside, it is also filled with warmth and sincerity, but then that's to be expected from the man I consider to be the greatest director of all time. Highly recommended.
This being my sixth Kurosowa film I must confess that I am constantly baffled by how timeless and powerful his directing, casting and storytelling are (check out Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, Dodes'keden and the sublime Seven Samurai!). But since this artist is so rennouned for his samurai pics, this one must be seen for proof of his versatility. The last film Kurosowa and Mifune did together is a triumph: it combines a perfect handling of such themes as coming-of-age, compassion and the great strength of the human heart (Mifune's titular Redbeard is a character any actor would die to play!!!). The screenplay sometimes admittedly veers close to sappiness but never indulges, despite the fact that this is a story about human suffering. Take a look at films today and you'll see how significant an accomplishment that is!!!
First of all let me say that this film is a real tear jerker. If you
want to see a film that talks about compassion then you are going to
want to see this film. In a world where pettiness abounds to see the
big-hearted nature of the main characters and how such compassion
literally changes people for the better -- you're going to want to see
For years I avoided this film (like IKIRU) because it was not a samurai film. But after getting over those ridiculous reasons, I finally figured I needed to complete my Kurosawa education by seeing it.
And boy was I glad I did.
It is one of those films that does change you. Like every classic it stands the test of time not because of its entertainment value but because it is a great experience. Even months after seeing the film the first time I found myself always examining my own life against the noble attitudes of the main characters.
Yes, it's three hours long. And yes, you're going to want to spend time to digest it. But the three hours you devote to this film is worth it. If you loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, you're going to love this film.
Akahige / Red Beard is 3 hours, 5 minutes long, but I strongly recommend it. It shows a definite maturity of style over Samurai (54), Throne of Blood (57), Yojimbo (61), to which it manages to subtly refer. In between was the slow-but-intense Crime/Class drama High and Low (63). Red Beard takes AK's observed modern style back to the feudal setting. One should set aside 4 hours for it, though, as you may need the break and, if you're like me, you'll want to see certain scenes again. Long composed/blocked shots and a "small" story make it seem slow, but I've found it fascinating all three times--rich in detail, with AK's familiar ensemble doing their best acting yet.
In the Nineteenth Century, in Japan, the arrogant and proud
just-graduated Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) is forced to work in
the Koshikawa Clinic, a non-profit health facility ruled by Dr. Kyojio
Niide (Toshirô Mifune), a.k.a. "Red Beard". "Red Beard" is a good,
sentimental, but also very firm, strong and fair man. While in the
clinic, Dr. Yasumoto becomes responsible for healing the hurt teenager
Otoyo (Terumi Niki), and he learns a lesson of humanity, becoming a
"Akahige" is another magnificent work of Master Akira Kurosawa. The touching and low-paced story is very beautiful, and shows the redemption of a spoiled man that becomes a human being, learning important and worthwhile values of life. It is almost impossible to highlight one individual performance in such a spectacular cast, but Toshirô Mifune shows his versatility in the role of the good "Red Beard". The 185 running time, with intermission, does not make any part of this interesting story boring, and this film is highly recommended for any sensitive audience. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "O Barba Ruiva" ("The Red Beard")
Akira Kurosawa said about the film, "I had something special in mind when I made this film because I wanted to make something that my audience would want to see it, something so magnificent that people would just have to see it." Humanistic and compassionate, the film tells the story of a young doctor who after graduation from the Dutch Medical School in Nagasaki hopes to become a member of the court medical staff but instead has to take a post as an intern at a Public Clinic for the impoverished patients. The clinic is run by Dr. Nide (Toshiro Mifune) whom the destitute patients call "Red Beard". The long and difficult journey awaits the young doctor from the initial shock and denial to work at the clinic, to learning how to understand his patients, care for them s and see the humans in them. Kurosawa describes the film, one of his directorial pinnacles as a "monument to the goodness in man". It also can be called a monument to his talent and humanism.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Motion picture enthusiasts would, at one time or another, ask themselves the agonizing question of which is their best-loved film. I have often done that. Although I cannot be absolutely certain, I'm inclined to choose Red Beard, with Hello Dolly and Judgement at Nuremberg as close contenders.
If I am allowed to use only one word to describe this film, it will be "warm". From Akahige flows a warmth that can be said to be almost uncharacteristic of Kurosawa, or at least much more palpable than in any other of his films. This warmth is particularly seen in his portrayal of the "little people" (borrowed fom Bob Hope in the 1971 Oscar Award), at which Kurosawa is very good. The best example is in a scene close to the end.
To set the scene, the young doctor played by Yuzo Kayamo has almost completed his transformation from a sceptical, arrogant apprentice to a humane, loyal disciple under the eccentric but effective training of the head of the hospital played by Toshiro Mifune. In turn, the young doctor is now helping with the tranformation of a juvenile prostitute (rescued by Toshiro Mifune) from a neurotic patient into a normal person. The example I have in mind is an episode between this girl and a small boy who has been driven to theft by poverty.
While the girl is well on her way to recovery and helping with manual work in the hospital, she has difficulty winning the acceptance of her co-workers. The episode started when they catch sight of the little boy trying to steal rice, but fail to stop him. In the following day, the girl managers to corner the little guy in the hospital. The conversation that ensues would break a heart of steel. What we see is two innocent children talking about poverty, hunger and life in a matter-of-course manner, without any wailing, without any bitterness, without even a trace of sadness. At the end, she tells him not to steal any more and promises to bring him some food the following day.
Unknown to them, the conversation is heard by some of the girl's co-workers, who end up in quiet sobs. The next day, at lunch, the girl tries to get an extra bowl of rice. One of the women who did not hear the conversation takes it away from her, claiming that she does not need that much. Those who heard the conversation the day before immediately snatch the rice back for the girl, claiming that she is a growing child and needs a lot of food. The scene is actually quite funny, and will have you laughing, but with a lump in your throat and mist in your eyes.
There is so much about this film and I won't go into details. I must mention however the wonderful music, which also has a feeling of warmth consistent with the film. In particular, there is a hauntingly beautiful little tune accompanying throughout the young doctor's untiring, patient and caring effort to help the girl recover from her traumatic experience.
Toshiro Mifune put up one of his best performances. Yuzo Kayama, a most popular star/idol at that time (comparable to Tom Cruise at his hay days) played his role as a solid, down-to-earth actor. All the numerous supporting roles were extremely well cast. Most significant, however, are the very minor roles (such as the labour women mentioned before) that are equally captivating, leaving a deep impression in the audience's mind. Therein lies Kurosawa's greatness.
"Red Beard" is the noble conclusion to Kurosawa's monochrome period which undoubtedly contained his finest work. Although there were beautifully choreographed action scenes still to come in "Kagemusha" and "Ran", nothing was quite the same after this quiet meditation on the stirrings of humanity in a dark and otherwise uncaring world. The period is early 19th century, the place a hospital for the socially impoverished run by a doctor who manages to combine idealism and pragmatism, the two essential ingredients needed to facilitate the emergence of enlightenment. Although the great Toshiro Mifune dominates the film as the hospital head, it is the effect of his presence on the young doctor who pays him a visit that is the main theme of the narrative. Yasumoto, selfish and ambitious, has no intention to begin with of devoting his services to the hospital but one by one his defences collapse as he learns from the example of an idealist who has shed all vestiges of selfishness. There are constant reminders that medicine was at a rudimentary stage in its development and of the dedication needed by pioneers at a time when most answers still remained unknown and everything was largely a matter of easing rather than curing. I would not claim that "Red Beard" is among Kurosawa's half dozen greatest works. At just over three hours it sprawls in a discursive way. A lengthy flashback of a dying patient's reasons for seeking a form of absolution rather impedes the narrative flow in spite of some impressive visuals of snowscapes and an earthquake. But then the structure of the whole film rather has the episodic quality of a soap opera where momentum is maintained by proceeding from one crisis to another. Nevertheless it is full of wonderfully contrasted sequences from the knockabout humour of Mifune applying his medical skills to warding off a group of assailants by breaking their limbs like matchsticks to the tender scene of the young doctor being nursed back from sickness by the girl rescued from enslavement in a brothel. And then there is the rain. Where would a Kurosawa film be without those torrential downpours to remind us of the physical discomfiture that a journey towards enlightenment entails.
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