Red Beard (1965)

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“Kurosawa somehow manages to imbue every moment of this three-hour-plus movie with the transcendent vitality and intelligence of a great Victorian novel.”

New Yorker

During the two-year production of this film – filming took longer than any Japanese film up to that time, including Seven Samurai – Kurosawa announced that he “wanted to push the confines of movie-making to their limits”. How he attempts this makes Red Beard one of his most challenging films. It’s the story of a young man (Yuzo Kayama) who becomes intern to the veteran doctor known as Red Beard (Toshiro Mifune), who runs a public clinic. It’s the doctor’s view that personal sacrifice for the common good is what makes a man’s life worthwhile; that only by complete dedication to the poor and needy can a doctor find fulfilment.

In this sense, the film has some thematic connections to Ikiru (Living), but the film delves further into the subject, suggesting that the old doctor’s feudal attitudes are becoming less relevant, yet that no modern doctrine is sufficient to take their place. The film’s powerful philosophical and ethical elements suggest that Kurosawa was, in a way making a summation of his life’s work with this film – it proved to be his last film with Mifune and his last film in black and white.

Supported by The Japan Foundation