In Japan it's beloved as the high point -- as well as the finale -- of Akira Kurosawa's creative partnership with his frequent star, Toshiro Mifune. In the West it's derided as a soap opera. But this 19th century story of a grizzled doctor nicknamed Red Beard (Mifune) and the green physician (Yuzo Kayama) who learns humane medical values from him at a clinic for the poor is actually, in many ways, Kurosawa's magnum opus. Kurosawa somehow manages to imbue every second of this 185-minute movie with the transcendent vitality and intelligence of a great Victorian novel. Mifune wisely plays a selfless hero with fierce brusqueness. He leads Kayama's headstrong, sensitive neophyte towards an understanding of healing as a social process, not merely a doling-out of diagnoses and prescriptions. In Kurosawa's dynamic yet intimate wide-screen filmmaking as well as in Red Beard's clinic, practicality and bedside manner merge with analysis and even bits of magic. Sequences such as the young-doctor's near-fatal close encounter with a female serial killer and a virtuous man's deathbed confession of a horrifying marital tragedy build to an inspiring conclusion, neither sentimental nor platitudinous.
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