Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blind Spot 2013: Red Beard

Based on a collection of short stories by Shugoro Yamamoto as well as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and the Injured, Akahige (Red Beard) is the story about a tumultuous relationship between a doctor and his young trainee in the 19th Century. Directed by Akira Kurosawa and screenplay by Kurosawa, Masato Ide, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni, the film explores the complexity of a man trying to teach a younger man about what it means to be a doctor. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Yuzo Kayama, Kyoko Kagawa, and Takashi Shimura. Akahige is an incredibly rich film from Akira Kurosawa.

In being a doctor, one has to think about the person in need of help instead of thinking for itself. In this film, it is about a young medical student from the city who finds himself working under the tutelage of a clinic director in a small yet poor town. For this young man who arrives as an idealist who had been trained in the best schools, being in a clinic in a poor part of town seems beneath him. Yet, he goes into great lengths into what it takes to be not just a doctor but a man people can count on. Notably in the encounters with death and such that would force this young man to realize what is right while he would make decisions that would be beneficial in the path he takes whether it would be the right one or not.

The film’s screenplay does have a traditional structure of sorts in the way it plays to the evolution of Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) and his understanding of what it really means to be a doctor. The first act involves his first meeting with the head of this clinic in Dr. Kyojo Niide aka Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa) who is this very compassionate individual who puts his patients first instead of himself as he’s also a bit of an eccentric with who has rules about how he runs the clinic. Dr. Yasumoto’s journey under Red Beard’s tutelage would play for much of the film’s first and second act where Dr. Yasumoto finds himself taking part in a surgery and watch two old men on their deathbeds. While Dr. Yasumoto does struggle with his environment as well as the fact that he’s working in a clinic that is going through budget cuts while many of the patients are very poor.

One key moment in the film’s second act is when Dr. Yasumoto walks into town with Red Beard where examines various people with Dr. Yasumoto’s help where they come across a brothel that included a sick and troubled 12-year old girl named Otoyo (Terumi Niki) who becomes Dr. Yasumoto’s first patient. Through Red Beard’s guidance, Dr. Yasumoto finds himself dealing with this troubled young girl as he has to go into methods that forces him to stray away from what he’s been taught from schools and go directly into the person. It would become a key moment in Dr. Yasumoto’s character development as well as this young girl who starts to become part of this clinic while befriending a young thief. While Dr. Yasumoto is groomed to become an assistant for a more renowned doctor in the city, he finds himself pondering about the decision he’s to make. While the outcome is somewhat predictable, it really more establishes into the kind of person Dr. Yasumoto has become through Red Beard.

Akira Kurosawa’s direction is absolutely engaging in the way he presents life in late 19th Century Japan as it is in a state of transition where things are changing as it involves themes ranging from existentialism, old ideas versus new, and humanism. While Kurosawa puts a lot of these themes into the forefront of his film, he does it with an air of subtlety as he knows that the audience is in for something that will have them go into discussions. Some of it is done with a lot of tenderness not just in the framing where Kurosawa uses the widescreen format to such effect. It’s also shown in small, simple moments such as moments where characters are interacting outside where the doctors and nurses all come together as if they are a family. A bit dysfunctional at times but a family that treats those who are sick with great care. The patients themselves may be those who are poor and neglected but Red Beard always find ways to tend to their needs.

A lot of Kurosawa’s approach to framing is very unique in the way he puts actors in a group shot whether it involves three or four people or a large group. A lot of it is done with some medium shots and close-ups in order to maintain an air of intimacy. There is also an interesting sequence in which a dying patient named Sahachi (Tsutomu Yamazaki) recalls about his past involving the love of his life and how he presumed to have lost her. It is an entrancing sequence that would play to Dr. Yasumoto’s development while there is also a scene that proves that as caring as Red Beard is. He’s also someone who is willing to fight for what is right such as beating up a gang of bandits with his bare hands just to help out this young girl. There are also some stylistic moments in not just Kurosawa’s use of tracking shots but also in his editing as he uses some dissolves, transition wipes, jump-cuts, and fade-outs to help flesh out the story and play out some of its drama. Overall, Kurosawa creates a truly heartfelt and powerful drama about life and helping those in need.

Cinematographers Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito do brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture some of the beauty of the exterior scenes in the winter to more dreary scenes in Sahachi‘s story that includes some entrancing lighting by Hiromitsu Mori that adds an atmosphere to some of the film‘s interiors and nighttime exterior scenes. Art director Yoshiro Muraki does excellent work with the set pieces from the look of the clinic and some of its exteriors as well as the more polished look of Dr. Yasumoto‘s family home. The sound by Shin Watari is fantastic for some of the chilling moments of the film including a scene where Otoyo and the nurses call a boy‘s name through a well. The film’s music by Masaru Sato is just intoxicating for its serene yet somber orchestral score to play up the drama that is happening along with a few moments that are upbeat as it’s really a mesmerizing score.

The film’s cast is just amazing as it features appearances from Takashi Shimura as a medical administrator, Kyoko Kagawa as a troubled woman who is quarantined by Red Beard, Miyuki Kuwano as the head nurse of the clinic, Yoshio Tsuchiya and Tatsuyoshi Ehara as a couple of doctors in the clinic, Reiko Dan as a nurse who is taking care of the quarantined woman, Kamatari Fujiwara as the ailing Rokusuke, Akemi Negishi as Sahachi’s wife Okuni, and Tsutomu Yamazaki as the ailing yet generous local Sahachi. Terumi Niki is wonderful as the troubled 12-year old girl Otoyo as she discovers a world where there is such thing as good in the world.

Yuzo Kayama is marvelous as Dr. Noburo Yasumoto as a young man who arrives as an arrogant man who felt disrespected by going into a clinic only to realize the demands is needed to be a doctor. Finally, there’s Toshiro Mifune in a phenomenal performance in the title role as a man who is filled with great sensitivity and patience to those he helps while guiding Dr. Yasumoto by showing him what takes to be there for those in need as it’s one of Mifune’s finest performances of his career.

Akahige is an outstanding film from Akira Kurosawa that features a tremendous performance from Toshiro Mifune. The film is definitely one of Kurosawa’s exquisite works as well as one of his most enduring dramas that explores a man guiding a younger man into displaying the attributes to be a doctor. It’s a film that showcases the goodness of what humanity can bring despite the cruel circumstances these characters go into as it unveils a side of Kurosawa that isn’t seen much in his films. In the end, Akahige is a touching yet exhilarating film from Akira Kurosawa.

Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Pt. 2) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail) - No Regrets for Our Youth - (Those Who Make Tomorrow) - (One Wonderful Sunday) - Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Dodesukaden - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - Dreams (1990 film) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)

© thevoid99 2013

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