Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa, 1965)

What's it about? The ambitious, idealistic young Dr Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) arrives at a poverty-stricken, rural clinic which is run by the gruff Dr Niide (Toshiro Mifune), nicknamed 'Red Beard'. Initially disdainful of his surroundings and destitute patients, Yasumoto soon learns from Red Beard that there is more to practising medicine than mere medical knowledge.


Is it any good? Absolutely, but this is a film that requires you sit down, set aside any distractions and immerse yourself in the story for full effect. Based on a series of short stories, Yasumoto's voyage of self-discovery unfolds leisurely in an episodic manner, with each segment focusing on the story of a different patient at the clinic. So we have a beautiful madwoman, a saintly old man with a tragic secret, a traumatized little girl and so on. Each of these stories develop in interesting ways and in treating these patients, Yasumoto grows as both a doctor and a person. That description is almost too simplistic, however. This is no routine morality tale - it is a deeper and richer film than that, a fitting distillation of the compassion and humanity that is so embedded throughout Kurosawa's film career. It is a long, deliberately paced film, but its structure means it could well be watched in a series of episodes, much like a TV drama, so there is no excuse not to experience it. Frankly, the world would be a better place if every doctor was sat down and made to watch this on a regular basis throughout their career - I'd even go so far as to say it should be a required component of every medical degree. It's a film that makes you want to be a better human being and that can only be a good thing.

Anything else I should know? Red Beard marked the 16th and last film in the extraordinary film-making partnership between Kurosawa and Mifune. Throughout the long shoot, Mifune was required to cultivate the facial hair required for the titular character, meaning he could not take on other work in the meantime. This resulted in loss of earnings and led to a sadly acrimonious split between actor and director. Thankfully, they left a remarkable legacy behind - check out some of their other collaboratons here.

What does the Fonz think? Scrubs up well. Two thumbs up.





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