A 35 mm KAVI print of the 1979 release deposited by Dianafilmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago: Films Made in 1965), 17 May 2015
Red Beard was the finale of Akira Kurosawa's long, great and fruitful creative period of 1943-1965 when he directed on the average one film every year. After the revelation of Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel Mifune starred in all of Kurosawa's films until Akahige save one (Ikiru).
There is in retrospect a sense of a farewell to an entire period of Japanese cinema here for instance in the final wedding ceremony where we see side by side in a single shot Chishu Ryu (Ozu), Kinuyo Tanaka (Mizoguchi), and Toshiro Mifune (Akira Kurosawa) as the father, the mother and the spiritual godfather of the bridegroom. Among the cast is also Haruko Sugimura (Mikio Naruse).
Akira Kurosawa and Donald Richie point out the influence of Dostoevsky in Red Beard - the key character of Otoyo is inspired by Dostoevsky - but for me the most profound affinity is with Tolstoy.
Richie in his excellent remarks on Red Beard in his Kurosawa book states that the film's theme of "good begets good" is exceptional (whereas "evil begets evil" is common). But there is a tale by Tolstoy which unites both themes: The False Coupon which has been filmed many times, and indeed, invariably only the first part of the tale has been filmed, where evil begets evil, a forgery of a banknote leading gradually to a massacre. Red Beard can be seen as a rare attempt to express in a film adaptation the second part of Tolstoy's The False Coupon where good begets good.
Richie compares Kurosawa here with Dickens and Griffith. The problem of showing goodness in action is in danger of getting sentimental or didactic. Kurosawa remains tough and harsh but in Richie's opinion does not completely avoid didacticism.
Red Beard is the Bildungsroman of an arrogant young doctor, Dr. Yasumoto, who wishes to land a plum position at the court but finds himself instead at the bottom of the barrel, taking care of slum people at a county hospital. This has been planned for him as a learning experience, but during the story the young doctor undergoes a spiritual transformation and decides to dedicate himself to the calling of helping people, disregarding fame and fortune. Yasumoto is almost killed by a murderous patient, witnesses death for the first time and faints at the first operation he gets to observe, but the greatest transforming experiences are even deeper.
Based on a collection of short stories, Red Beard consists of episodes: - the story of "The Praying Mantis", the murderous madwoman, - the story of the evil old man who dies in agony and his daughter who has led a very hard life - the story of the other dying old man, a kind heart whose wife had committed suicide - the story of the 12-year-old Otoyo rescued from the brothel - and the story of the little boy who steals rice from the hospital. They cover all sorts of backgrounds for illness, from the psychopathological to the social: "If poverty did not exist, half of them would not be ill" states Red Beard. Red Beard is not just interested in the clinical side of the patients but always tries to have an insight into an entire life story.
There are sequences here that belong to the most beautiful that Kurosawa ever created: - The love story of Sahachi and Onaka: "we lived together, it was like a dream, then came an earthquake, and I never saw her again"... except that she survived, and when they met again, they were like different people. - And most hauntingly the encounter of Dr. Yasumoto with the first patient of his own, the 12-year-old Otoyo. First Dr. Yasumoto cures Otoyo, and then, Otoyo saves Yasumoto. There is a transference of love which Dr. Yasumoto knows how to resist.
Most of all I like in Red Beard its moral gravity.
The black and white Tohoscope cinematography by Asakazu Nakai and Takao Saito is wonderful. Donald Richie calls Red Beard Kurosawa's most realistic film, but it is still strongly and beautifully stylized.
The basic health of the visual quality of the 1979 print is overwhelming. It has been heavily used and there is the expected patina but most memorable are the many passages of fine soft sophistication; I would not be surprised if it would turn out that part of the print were struck directly from the original negative. For instance the daring and unique sequence of the mutual healing between Yasumoto and Otoyo looks breathtakingly beautiful. Also the remarkable sequence of calling the dying little boy's spirit back from the other side via crying into a deep well looks startling and unforgettable.
OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN
OUR PROGRAMME NOTE BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN
"Se on uni. Se on kuitenkin uni, jonka haluaisi olevan totta. Jos Punaparran kaltainen ihminen oli olemassa, jos hänen oppilaansa seuraisivat hänen raivaamaansa tietä, jos näitä hyvää tahtoa täynnä olevia ihmisiä tulisi tällä tavoin yhä enemmän, meidän maailmamme muuttuisi. Se olisi ilon ja onnen valtakunta. Punaparta on surullinen tarina, musta kertomus, mutta toivoisin, että ihmiset lähtisivät elokuvateattereista kevein sydämin ja täynnä toivoa. Ennen kuin aloitin kuvaukset, annoin kaikkien työhön osallistuvien kuunnella Beethovenin Yhdeksännen sinfonian kuorofinaalin, Oodin ilolle Schillerin sanoihin, kertoen, että tämä on elokuvan perussävy, jonka vallassa katsojan tulisi lähteä teatterista." (Kurosawa)
Punaparta on lempinimi lääkärille, joka johtaa köyhien sairaalaa 1800-luvun feodaalisessa Japanissa. Hänen sairaalansa on kuin Tsehovin Huone numero kuusi samannimisessä novellissa: maailman pienoiskuva, jonne mahtuu lukuisia järkyttäviä ihmiskohtaloita. Se on kuva maailman julmuudesta ja kärsimyksestä, jonka keskellä Punaparta elää ja toimii, ei haihattelevana maailmanparantajana, vaan tehden käytännön työtä, todellisena hyväntekijänä. Punaparta tiedostaa yhteiskunnan vääryydet ja yrittää voimiensa mukaan lievittää yhtä paljon niiden aiheuttamia haavoja kuin varsinaisia sairauksia. Tämän miehen kautta Kurosawa kertoo kahdesta asiasta: ihanteesta, jota ei ehkä ole olemassakaan ja maailmasta, jonka aiheuttamien kärsimysten takia jonkinlaisen ihanteen täytyy olla olemassa. Juuri tästä toivosta ja ilosta Kurosawa puhuu.
Itse asiassa elokuvan prosessi on se, minkä kokee Yasumoto, vastavalmistunut nuori ja kunnianhimoinen lääkäri, joka on kuvitellut suhteittensa ja taitojensa ansiosta pääsevänsä keisarin hoviin, mutta joka määrätäänkin Punaparran apulaiseksi köyhien sairaalaan. Juuri Yasumoton kautta, hänen silmillään ja tunteillaan, Kurosawa antaa katsojan tutustua Punapartaan ja tämän ankaraan moraaliin. Punaparta on tiukka muille, mutta ennen kaikkea itselleen: hän saattaa soimata itseään joutuessaan käyttämään hyväksi pahojen ihmisten moraalista heikkoutta saadakseen nämä tekemään hyvää. Punaparta johdattaa apulaisensa keinojen ja päämäärän välisen suhteen pohdintaan tavalla, jonka kautta nuorukainen – kuten katsojakin – kasvaa näkemään asiat uudessa valossa, oppii jotakin sekä maailmastaan että itsestään.
Esittääkseen tämän kehityksen mahdollisimman täsmällisesti ja konkreettisesti Kurosawa käyttää pettävän yksinkertaista ilmaisua, jossa kerronnan langat rönsyilevät sitäkin enemmän. Yasumoton silmin katsoja seuraa monia ihmiskohtaloita, jotka kaikki kertovat kärsimyksestä, ihmiseen itseensä, hänen tunteisiinsa ja ruumiiseensa kohdistuvasta väkivallasta ja loukkauksista – ja useimmissa kohtaloissa eniten kärsivänä osapuolena on nainen. Kurosawa on kiinni perusasioissa (hyvä ja paha, miten ihminen voi olla hyvä, elää hyvin ja tehdä hyvää?) tavalla, joka ohittaa paatuneen länsimaisen näkemyksen kysymyksen asettelujen naiiviudesta. Ilmaisun tasolla Kurosawa löytää lyyrisyyden ja vimmaisuuden pakottoman tasapainon.
– Veli-Pekka Makkosen (1979) ja muiden lähteiden mukaan Sakari Toiviainen
The Criterion Collection
By Donald Richie
After finishing High and Low (1963), director Akira Kurosawa recalls, “I started looking around for something else to do and quite by accident picked up [the novel] Red Beard by Shugoro Yamamoto. At first I thought it would make a good script for [fellow director] Horikawa but as I wrote I grew so interested that I knew I would have to direct it myself.
“The script is quite different from the novel. One of the major characters, the young girl, is not even found in the book. While I was writing I kept remembering Dostoevsky and I tried to show the same thing that he showed in the character of Nelli in The Insulted and the Injured.
“I had something special in mind when I made this film because I wanted to make something that my audience would want to see, something so magnificent that people would just have to see it. To do this we all worked harder than ever, tried to overlook no detail, were willing to undergo any hardship. It was really hard work [and the film took longer before the cameras than any other Japanese film including Seven Samurai—almost two years] and I got sick twice. Mifune and Kayama each got sick once . . .”
At the end of the Tokugawa period a young man, Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) returns to Edo after several years’ study at the Dutch medical schools in Nagasaki. Told to make a formal call at the Koishikawa Public Clinic and pay his respects to its head Kyojio Niide, commonly called Red Beard (Toshiro Mifune), he learns that he is to stay there and work as an intern. Since he had hoped to be attached to the court medical staff and had certainly never considered working in a public clinic, the news is a great shock. He refuses, purposely breaks the hospital rules, will not wear a uniform, and further trespasses by lounging around a forbidden area, the small pavilion where a beautiful but insane patient (Kyoko Kagawa) is kept.
Like the hero of Sashiro Sugata, like the detective in Stray Dog, and the shoe manufacturer in High and Low, the young doctor learns: Red Beard too is the story of an education. Kayama learns that medical theory (illusion) is different from a man dying (reality); that—as the film later reveals—what he had always thought about himself (upright, honest, hard-working) must now be reconciled with what he finds himself to also be (arrogant, selfish, insincere); and most importantly, that evil itself is the most humanly common thing in this world; that good is uncommon.
At the beginning his position is that of the hero of Kurosawa’s High and Low. He did nothing to merit exile in a public clinic, he has done nothing “wrong.” And yet here he finds himself unable to escape, unable to see in what way he merits this punishment. Put in a way that Kurosawa would not care for, one might say that he is, like all of us, born into an estate concerning which we were not consulted and for which we did not ask.
To describe the look of Red Beard one should speak of something burnished and glowing, like the body of a fine cello. If a single adjective were used I should think it would be: “mellow.”
This mellowness is contained within the look of the film itself. It has a patina, the way certain of Mizoguchi’s films have a patina. This is the result of strong concern for realistic detail. Kurosawa’s efforts to achieve this are already legend in Japan. The main set was really an entire town with back alleys and side streets (some of which were never filmed) which was so large that shots of just the roofs fill the whole wide screen during the credit titles.
All of the material used for the town was about as old as it is supposed to look. The tiled roofs were taken from buildings more than a century old; all of the lumber was from the oldest available farmhouses; costumes and props were all “aged” for months before their appearance; the bedding (made in Tokugawa-period patterns) was really slept in for up to half a year before shooting. Making the main gate, which so figures in the film, occupied almost everyone. The wood was more than a hundred years old and both staff and director kept adding touches to make it look still older. (After the film was shot, the gate was re-erected at the entrance of the theatre premiering the film and drew as great a crowd as the picture itself.)
Kurosawa used this magnificent set (so grand that tourist bus companies ran special tours during the two years of filming in order to show visitors its splendors) in a very telling way. The main street is seen for just one minute and its destruction was incorporated into the earthquake scenes; the scenes with the bridges are likewise short; so are those in the elaborately constructed paddy. The director, if one wants to look at it this way, completely wasted his million yen set.
After Red Beard had opened, while it was still playing to packed houses and was proving to be indeed just the kind of picture that people want to see, something “so magnificent that people would just have to see it,” I told Kurosawa that I sensed that he had come to some sort of conclusion, some sort of resting place. He had pushed his style to what appeared to be its ultimate. At the same time he continued and, it would seem, completed the theme which had been his throughout his entire career. It might even be called the summation of his work because in Red Beard he had vindicated his humanism and his compassion. He had shown that only after the negative (evil) has been fully experienced can the positive, the good, joy itself, be seen as the power it still remains; that this wisdom was offered in a film filled with true sentiment, with the fact that in all of our glory, in all of our foolishness, we are—after all—human; further, that evil itself is merely human, after all, and that the good then lies in our realizing this and acting upon it. (The Criterion Collection)