Red Beard Movie Review

I'd never heard of Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard before the Criterion DVD showed up in the mail, but judging from the cover and the talent appearing in it, I expected a swashbuckling samurai flick -- maybe something about a red bearded pirate?

Would that I had done my research. Red Beard is a major miss in Kurosawa's distinguished career, a three-hour opus that can be best described as a protracted retelling of General Hospital in 19th century Japan.

Red Beard, it turns out, is the head doctor at the local clinic (played by veteran actor Toshirô Mifune). His movie comprises the largely unrelated stories of his underlings and their patients, and they couldn't be less enthralling. One crazy woman, after attacking the doctors, reveals that she was sexually abused as a child. One man retells a long story about a lost love, an earthquake, and her suicide. It has nothing to do with his case, but he wanted to get it off his chest before he died. Another woman has a strange obsession compelling her to scrub floors constantly.

Three hours later, what do we have to show for the investment of time? Something about the mortality of doctors vs. those they treat? Sickness of the mind vs. the body? Who knows -- the message is muddied under ham-fisted acting and ridiculous music cues. The script is all over the map, and while the direction is capable and full of flourish, it's hard to notice under the weight of the leaden story.

As the final collaboration between Kurosawa and Mifune, Red Beard often finds a sentimental home in the hearts of their fans. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a classic.

Aka Akahige.

Comments

Red Beard Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: NR, 1965

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