Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Red Beard (1965)

TOP 100 FILMS: #52

Recently graduated Dr. Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayame) is disgruntled when his post-grad assignment is an internship at a small government clinic. Serving under the care of the seemingly cold Dr. Niide (Toshiro Mifune), affectionately known as Red Beard, Yasumoto encounters a variety of patients, and the heartache that comes with poverty.

"The pain and loneliness of death frighten me. But Dr. Niide looks at it differently. He looks into their hearts as well as their bodies." - Dr. Mori

There's a funny thing about Kurosawa's heavy thematic films. They carry a heavy load. Rashomon brought him into the world of the west. In many respects Akahige took him out. Not literally, and much of his great work was still to come, but Akahige marked a staunch falling point in his career. Nearly bankrupting himself, star Toshiro Mifune, and the studio backing him, from here on Kurosawa would struggle to get money for future projects, nor would he and Mifune ever work together again. That being said, I'm glad him and Mifune ended on such an amazing work, regardless of what was the pressing opinion of the time.

The the heart of Kurosawa's Akahige is a simple notion: you can cure their pain, but can you ever cure their heart? Throughout the film Yasumoto encounters such painful stories of famine, struggle, and weakness from people who know it better than anyone else. And while it is often noted to be a story of a romance between two doctors, Akahige has very little to do with them. They're the observers. The remaining conscious of old and new age Japanese philosophy. Before they can cure anyone, they have to understand them. Something Dr. Niide knows better than anyone. And it's in that, that Yasumoto finds his place among the healthcare system.

Still at over 3 hours, Akahige is not an easy viewing. I'm not just talking about the time, I'm talking about the stories. Akahige will take you to the very edge of your morals, and reach into the fabric of your being and grip your emotional cords. At times I had to pause and walk away due to the sheer emotional ride it takes you on. And I have to say Kurosawa's directing here, it deserves a standing ovation. The silhouette death of the lost love, the tragic scream into the well, Kurosawa pulls out every directorial stop he has, and it'll move you in ways you may never know. The plight of the poor, that's what Akahige is really all about. And it's that true emotional sentiment and value that ranks it among my top 100 films.

A truly powerful, and emotional tale, Kurosawa's hospital epic pre-dates the modern snarky, tough guy, doctor, while adding a strong sentiment of heart, analyzing the true cost the poor must pay.

1 better thoughts:

Castor said...

Another 10/10. I missed it last night unfortunately, hope it gets on TCM next week!

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