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Film / Red Beard

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Red Beard is a 1965 film directed by Akira Kurosawa, based on the short story collection Akahige shinryotan (赤ひげ診療譚) by Shūgorō Yamamoto. It stars Toshiro Mifune as Dr. Kyojō Niide, nicknamed "Red Beard".

The protagonist of the film is Dr. Yasumoto—samurai, recent graduate of the medical school at Nagasaki, and disappointed in love. He's even more disappointed when he learns that instead of the prestigious post with the shogunate he'd expected, Dr. Yasumoto is assigned to a public clinic that provides free care for the poor. At first, the arrogant young Yasumoto is determined to be as contrary as possible so that Red Beard will fire him.

Over the course of the story, Dr. Yasumoto learns from his experiences and Red Beard's gruff wisdom, becoming both a better doctor and a better human being.

This film marked the end of the creative partnership between Mifune and Kurosawa that dated back to 1948's Drunken Angel and included almost every film Kurosawa made over a period of 17 years. The two had a falling out and didn't speak for over 20 years, although they did reconcile in the 1990s. According to legend, their reconciliation was prompted after the two of them attended the funeral of their mutual friend and colleague Ishir⁠ō Honda, best known as the director of a certain monster movie you may have heard of.

This film provides examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: The failure of one drives some of Dr. Yasumoto's bitterness, and another leads to tragic circumstances.
  • Caretaker Reversal: Dr. Yasumoto takes care of a feverish girl, abused to the point of madness, named Otoyo. When the doctor himself falls ill, Otoyo tends him, which helps her mental recovery. (In an amusing bit, she even tries reading his medical texts to stay awake.)
  • Character Development: Dr. Yasumoto is a much better person at the end of the film than he is at the beginning.
  • Determined Doctor: Few things can stand in the way of Red Beard administering aid. If a dozen or so armed hoodlums try to prevent him from taking a 12-year-old feverish girl to his clinic, he'll just beat them all up with his bare hands. If the same girl refuses to take her medicine, he'll just try again and again with patience and kindness. The fact that seeing peasants for free leaves him poor himself means little to him and he's more concerned with the lack of funds to properly care for so many sick people.
  • Dressed to Heal: Dr. Yasumoto first looks at Sahachi while dressed in his own samurai-ish clothes, prompting Sahachi to say that it would be more comforting if he wore the clinic's uniform, as the sight of it tells a sick person that help is on the way.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Sahachi's love Onaka kills herself via a knife to the gut. More specifically, she points the knife to herself and then has an oblivious Sahachi embrace her, driving the knife into her.
    • Chobo's whole family swallows poison out of shame at finding out he had been stealing. Red Beard and Yasumoto manage to save them, though.
  • Dying Alone: Rokusuke dies with only a couple of impersonal doctors watching over him. This is contrasted with Sahachi, who was beloved by many for his selflessness and so has practically the whole neighborhood come to see him in his final hours.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Otoyo is living in Yasumoto's room while deep within a Heroic BSoD. On multiple occasions, both when she's lying down and sitting up, her face is lit so that only her eyes are visible.
  • Fainting: Yasumoto faints at his first surgery, involving a woman with some sort of ghastly stomach wound. Aftwards, he's humiliated.
  • Fan Disservice: This, the only film in the Kurosawa canon to feature nudity, shows what is obviously a shapely young woman—writhing in agonizing pain on the operating table as Red Beard and his assistant try to repair a horrible gaping wound in her stomach.
  • Flashback: The tragic story of Onaka's romance with Sahachi is told by Sahachi in an extended flashback.
  • Freudian Excuse: Defied. The Mantis Woman was sexually abused as a child, but Red Beard is quick to point out that not every sexually abused child grows up to become a Serial Killer. He maintains she was born with some form of mental illness.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Red Beard beats up a bunch of brothel toughs with his bare hands. He then denounces violence and says that this is something a doctor should never do.
  • Honor Before Reason: The man who would have been Dr. Yasumoto's father in law feels he cannot forgive his eldest daughter and embrace his grandchild until Dr. Yasumoto accepts a new arrangement to make up for the jilting.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Chobo survives the poison that he and his family all took.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Onaka stabs herself in the stomach once and dies about three seconds later.
  • Intermission: Five minutes. Once, in the before time, movie producers understood that three hour films should have bathroom breaks built in.
  • Minored In Ass Kicking: Red Beard avoids fighting as a doctor, but turns into a fearsome fighter if pushed into it, as seen when he handily beats up some hoodlums who wanted to stop him from taking an ailing girl to his clinic.
  • Oblivious to Love: Dr. Mori, who has to have Osugi's feelings pointed out to him by the other nurses.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Dr. Niide's name is hard to pronounce, and he has a reddish tinge to his beard, so he's always addressed as "Red Beard" or "Dr. Red Beard."
  • Sleep Cute: It is apparent that Otoyo is regaining her faith in humanity when Yasumoto wakes up and finds her asleep with her head on his stomach.
  • Snow Means Love: It's snowing when Onaka dashes out and offers Sahachi an umbrella to protect him. He's smitten.
  • Welcome Episode: New arrival Yasumoto appears at the hospital and is greeted by a bitter, burnt-out doctor who gives him a tour and establishes how dire things are.
  • When She Smiles: Otoyo, the young girl Yasumoto and Red Beard rescue from the brothel. The moment she recovers and genuinely smiles for the first time can melt even the most cynical of hearts (Yasumoto's included).