Red Beard

Last night’s open mic at Queenferry was quiet. In the words of John Wayne, ‘almost too quiet’. After a natter with John and Ali I came home to watch the last part of Red Beard, another Akira Kurosawa / Toshiro Mifune film I’d rented on DVD.

Unlike the others this turned out not to be a Samurai combat or military film, but a moving and powerful story of a doctor. It’s set in the Samurai period (I think) : a young, arrogant medical graduate is tricked into service at a  country clinic  run  by  the  taciturn Red Beard (Mifune), where the patients are the most poor and desperate. At first he is disgusted and non-cooperative, but gradually his mind is opened by the human stories behind the dying wrecks of people he’s asked to attend. Mifune is as magnetic as in any of his films, explosive but withheld power in his every look and gesture. The only hint of his usual action  roles is when the doctors rescue a twelve-year-old girl from a brothel, and Red Beard dispatches the brothel’s minders, cracking  bones with abandon, then fussing over treating the wounds and chiding himself for using too much violence. The relationship that builds between the damaged child and the young doctor is beautifully portrayed. The DVD’s menu effectively replays in silence some of the most beautifully photographed scenes. A masterpiece. I think I’ve now watched all Kurosawa’s period films starring Mifune, but haven’t seen the modern-day ones. I look forward to them all.

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