Combustible Celluloid
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With: Toshiro Mifune, Yuzo Kayama, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kyoko Kagawa, Miyuki Kuwano, Kinuyo Tanaka
Written by: Masato Ide, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, based on a novel by Shugoro Yamamoto
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 185
Date: 04/03/1965

Red Beard (1965)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Doc Hop

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While scholars continue to argue between Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi or Akira Kurosawa as the greatest Japanese filmmaker of all time, Criterion has quietly struck a blow for the latter director with its release of Red Beard, Kurosawa's last work in black-and-white and his last with his signature actor Toshiro Mifune.

Most American fans know Kurosawa primarily for his swashbuckling samurai films, like Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Those are great films, but Kurosawa was always at his best when dealing with quieter material as in Ikiru, High and Low and this 1965 film. In it, Mifune plays the stern director of a public hospital. A young doctor named Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) arrives, expecting simply to pay a visit while preparing to move on to his cushy job as a Shogun's personal physician. To his surprise, he's informed that he's the clinic's new doctor. His response is hugely selfish, refusing to work or wear his uniform, hoping that Red Beard will throw him out. But he soon learns to see beyond his own needs and learns that treating people is more important than money.

It sounds like Patch Adams, but Kurosawa spends considerable time (3 hours and 5 minutes) and money to make sure that this story has texture and many layers. His use of the widescreen frame is superb, arranging the elements within the frame for maximum poetic effect. He forgoes a linear plot in favor of several unconnected events, each with their own individual strengths.

DVD Details: The Criterion Collection's Red Beard is the first DVD I watched with my brand new S-video hookup, and I was astonished at the picture quality; you can actually see the wood grain in the walls behind the characters. The DVD also comes with a commentary track by Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, liner notes by Donald Richie (who provided the commentary track for Criterion's excellent Rashomon DVD) and a theatrical trailer.

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