Red Beard (1965)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Medical Drama, Period Film  |   Run Time - 185 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Costello

Perhaps the clearest statement of the humanism that was the guiding force of Akira Kurosawa's career, it was loosely inspired by the Dostoevsky story The Insulted and the Injured. One of the most difficult shoots in the history of Japanese film, its two arduous years of production were marred by a series of skirmishes between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, which would eventually lead to the end of their long collaboration. On its surface, the dynamics of this master-student plot might seem trite, and indeed the film isn't without the odd moment of cornball sentiment, but on the whole, its exploration of the harrowing journey endured by the haughty young doctor and his subsequent transformation is far closer in spirit to Dostoevsky than Dr. Kildare. Eschewing the visual pyrotechnics and virtuoso editing of his action films, the director opts for stark, austere master scenes better suited to the grim atmosphere of the clinic which is both the sole lifeline of its desperate patients and a medical boot camp for the sullen Yasumoto. While hardly scanting the suffering of these people -- especially a gruesome operation and and the treatment of a sexually abused girl -- Kurosawa makes clear that it is ignorance and poverty which are the true source of their misery. Yuzo Kayama gives a richly textured performance as the sulky intern, and Mifune, whose gruff character remains largely unexplored is as compelling as ever.