Blake's Review of Red Beard
The word masterpiece is a word that has always been thrown around way too much, especially when it comes to film. But Akira Kurosawa seems to be one of those very rare directors who couldn't have the word used enough. I have seen six of his films now and each one I've seen is a masterpiece in its own special way: Ikiru is a masterpiece for its poignant beauty, Rashomon for its innovative structure and its insightful look into the nature of truth, while Seven Samurai is a masterpiece for well...everything. And here we have Red Beard: a beautifully crafted film that is as tragic and sorrowful as it is heartfelt and warm.
In his wide spanning career, Kurosawa's main goal as a director of cinema was to make films that engrossed and provoked audiences as much as literature could. In this aspect I think Red Beard is the film that comes closest to being Kurosawa's ultimate aspiration. By the end, I did not feel as if I had viewed a film, but more like I had been engrossed in the life of a man. A man who started out as a na´ve child, and had grown to not only become a great doctor, but also a great person, and the lessons he had learned I felt I had learned. Although I love Throne of Blood and Ran as much as the next cinema-geek, I truly connect with Kurosawa's films when they're at their most humanistic. Like Ikiru, Red Beard shows us how we can impact the lives of others around us if we only find the will to do it, and as corny as that may sound, Red Beard is not contrived in any way. The viewer is never given a long preach, he is only told to view the events that unfold on screen, view the characters for what they are, and make judgments for themselves. Kurosawa knew the key to getting his point across, and that is: To make it seem like you're not getting any point across at all.
Red Beard's running time is 185 minutes long, but it is not really a film that could be described as an epic. There is never a sense of a larger life story or a film that has the vibrato of "Seven Samurai" or "Kagemusha", and it's not meant to. This is a minimalist human tale that, to Americans, is grounded in a foreign land, but no matter where one lives the themes are universal. The characters are some of the most absorbing I ever seen in any film, and I personally was not ready to leave them by the time the film was over. I wanted to continue following the lives of Yasumoto, Otoyo, and the wise Red Beard himself. I felt swept up, swept up into a place that was in many ways dark and sad but also beautiful. If this feeling is not the ultimate testament to Kurosawa, and more so, to the power of filmmaking then I don't know what is. This is all in part to the fantastic performances from Toshiro Mifune (Who shows his indispensable range as Dr. Niide (Red Beard), Yuzo Kayama (The arrogant intern who quickly realizes he has a lot to learn), and Otoyo (A young girl who has lost faith in kindness).
Red Beard was the last film collaboration between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. It was also Kurosawa's last black and white film, and in many ways it was the end of an era. There was reportedly a lot of dysfunction that went into the making of this film, and according to the fascinating commentary by Stephen Prince, a lot of tension growing between the director and actor, and the fact that it would be followed by the worst critical release of Kurosawa's career "Dodes'ka-den" doesn't really help either. But one would never know all of this by watching Red Beard. It is a pitch perfect film filled with beauty, tears, and even some laughter. But most importantly it is filled with an undeniable affection for human kind. And what could possibly be more essential to our lives than that? Red Beard is a Masterpiece.