Noboru Yasumoto is the newest intern at a country clinic run by the doctor Ktojo
Niide-- also know as Red Beard (Toshiro Mifune). Seemingly mistakenly assigned
there, Yasumoto is not pleased with his situation. He was trained to be a doctor
to the Shogun and resents having to take care of the homeless and vagrants that
populate the clinic. He feels that he should be given a position that is worthy
of his upbringing and his heritage. This is a typical theme in most of director
Kurosawa's films. Class and upbringing were an important part of his life and
were ideas that he constantly struggled with in his films.
As the relation develops between Red Beard and Yasumoto develops, so does Yasumoto's
maturity. Red Beard understands that Yasumoto's knowledge is one of only book
learning and not one of experience. He can see the problem, but not always the
cause behind it. Through three different patients Yasumoto learns what it means,
with Red Beard's help, what it means to be doctor and what the different types
of medicine are.
Halfway through the film Yasumoto accepts his responsibilities and understands
the important role that he plays in the clinic and society itself. From there
the film begins to follow his treatment of a young girl named Otoyu and her
reluctance for help. Abused from a very early age, she assumes that all will
be abusive to her. It is only after Yasumoto fails in her initial treatment
and asks help from Red Beard that she begins to reintegrate into the world around
It is in this moment of the film, which I think is one of the highlights of
Kurosawa and Mifune's collaborations, that Mifune gives one of his most subtle
and emotional performances. He is no longer the warrior/assassin/shogun that
occupied so many of Kurosawa's films. He now shows a maturity and wisdom in
his eyes and actions. In an attempt to reach the sick girls he continues tirelessly
with his attempts to administer her medicine as she repeatedly throws it in
his face. His pupil Yasumoto had given up after one try, but Red Beard continues
with only a shrug or a laugh each time. The subtleties in this moment convey
perfectly the duty and feelings that Red Beard holds for his patients and his
job. They are not just sick patients needing a cure, they are the life of his
work and they keep him going in the hard times that the clinic faces.
As the film nears its end, it is Yasumoto has become a changed person and has
benefited from his time at the clinic with Red Beard. He now knows what he wants
to do with his life based upon what he has experienced and not what he has been
told or assumed. His desire for rank and class for the sole title has been replaced
by a calling to duty, to do what is right. Despite the rejections and warnings
by Red Beard, Yasumoto realizes that he too has grown into a man like Red Beard,
for good or bad, and that is something he is prepared to live with.
Video: As usual, Criterion has produced a beautiful and haunting transfer.
Kurosawa's black and white landscapes and scenes are reproduced beautifully
in the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Slight amounts of grain are noticeable at
times, but that's to be expected due to the films age. The contrast of the print
is spot on and the blacks are deep and the grays move through the variations
of tone perfectly.
Audio: The audio transfer by Criterion is as perfect as you could ask
for from the source material. The rich stereo mix is crisp and bright and never
overpowering. A master of combining music and cinema Kurosawa's musical cues
are recreated perfectly here.
Extras: The age of the film limits the extras available. A trailer for
the original release is included, as well as an interesting and historically
informative commentary from Stephen Prince. A noted film scholar, it's not as
amusing as most commentaries, but it is one of the most informative I've ever
had the pleasure of listening to. Prince revels the historical accuracies that
Kurosawa inserted throughout the film. The name of the film and main character
itself is a reference to the introduction of Dutch medicine to Japanese culture.
Before the Dutch introduced the idea of surgery and internal medicine, Japanese
methods took an entirely external and holistic approach. The Japanese called
the Dutch Red Beards and called their medicine Red Medicine. Interesting facts
like these are revealed throughout, as well as many autobiographical details
about Kurosawa's life itself. Highly intelligent, it's not a commentary for
everyone but it will educate.
Overall: Do you really need to see the final recommendation? It's a
DVD from the premiere DVD authoring house in the business and from one of the
most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. Do yourself a favor and pick
up a copy of Red Beard to see that Kurosawa was not only a master of the epic
warrior's tale and samurai story, but to see that his mastery extends into the
region of human drama and compassion.