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Red Beard (1965)

KICKIN' IT KUROSAWA!

 

Hairy Mifune!
Hairy Mifune!

Genre: Period Drama (Japan)

Starring: Toshirô Mifune (The Lower DepthsThe Bad Sleep Well), Yuzo Kayama (The Sword Of DoomSanjuro)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (No Regrets For My YouthRashomon)

Overview: A young doctor visits the slums and is made to work for a strict yet caring doctor named Red Beard.

Red Beard is a very differently unique work of The Emperor's oeuvre. It also marks the last of many things Kurosawa was known for.

Black-and-White cinematography, Toshirô Mifune, and the age when he produced films on a hasty timeline would all be things of the past after Red Beard. Kurosawa would change to colour film, Toshirô would never be in another Kurosawan film, and Japan's film industry was one that could no longer sustain the sorts of productions Kurosawa had grown into making.

Red Beard, at just over three hours, is an epic film, and though successful enough, was certainly not worth ending such a successful friendship over. Mifune grew a beard for the two-year role, but this beard did not make it possible for him to get other roles on other films during this uncommonly long production. Mifune sank into debt. This, surely not aided by The Emperor's demanding direction style, caused Mifune to separate from his wife. Kurosawa, it is said, took great offence at this, and he began speaking ill of Mifune. Perhaps this is reasonable given that Kurosawa himself played a part in vouching for Mifune's character all those years ago when Toshirô asked for his wife's hand in marriage. By no means did this end Mifune's career, but though the two men reasonably reconciled many years later, their dark time lasted a long while, and the two would never work again.

As stories go, it's essentially many a character study. We look into the lives and tales of the two doctors, the elder Red Beard and his new and very unhappy underling Yasumoto. Still, there are several stories of patients, some as they relate to the clinic and to the character development of the two doctors, but others merely as stand-alone vignettes of the poor people who are treated there. This was my greatest problem with Red Beard as it affected the overall pacing and focus.

Human, honest, etc... etc... Yes, it is ever a testament to Kurosawa's writing skill, the ability of his actors and crew, and the attention to detail. For example, Kurosawa insisted that the wood they use as props and sets be the same as those that would have been used during the Edo period, the time in which this story is set.

Red Beard studies madness, unrequited love, justice - as told in the character a young girl rescued from prostitution as well as a young boy saved from poverty and suicide. There's even a fantastic fight scene but it's all too long. Moments of tedium could easily have been replaced by cutting a vignette or two, especially those with no bearing whatsoever on the overall dynamic of the two doctors and their conflicts.

Not as beautiful as his blasted landscapes of war-torn modern Japan, nor as epic as the samurai tales Kurosawa is famed for, Red Beard, though a perfectly professional undertaking, came as a genuine surprise by being work with less focus as I've become accustomed to from The Emperor.

Now there's some fine doctorin'!
Now there's some fine doctorin'!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 78% (*Contemplatively Rubbing Chin*)
Aftertaste:

In a way I dreaded seeing this because I knew that I would never again see the man I grew to appreciate through Kurosawa's work! Furthermore, I felt his character lacking somewhat in definition. I had hoped that Kurosawa would begin by having Red Beard as all too draconian then slowly reveal his depth, yet he seemed, from the very beginning, rather reasonable. Either way, Mifune won the Venice Film Festival's Best Actor award for this role.

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