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Red Beard
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Ryuzo Kikushima
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Masato Ide
Ryuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Hideo Oguni
Starring Toshirō Mifune
Yūzō Kayama
Cinematography Asakazu Nakai
Distributed by Toho
Release date(s) April 3, 1965 (Japan)
January 19, 1966 (US)
Running time 185 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Red Beard (赤ひげ Akahige ?) is a 1965 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa about the relationship between a town doctor and his new trainee. The film was based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's short story collection, Akahige shinryotan (赤ひげ診療譚). Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Insulted and the Injured provided the source for a subplot about a young girl, Otoyo (Terumi Niki), who is rescued from a brothel. Red Beard looks at the problem of social injustice and explores two of Kurosawa's favourite topics: humanism and existentialism.



The film takes place in Edo (the former name of the city of Tokyo), in the 19th century. Young Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yūzō Kayama) is the film's protagonist. Trained in a Dutch medical school in Nagasaki, the arrogant Yasumoto aspires to the status of personal physician of the Shogunate. For Yasumoto's post-graduate medical training, he has been assigned to a rural clinic under the guidance of Akahige ("Red Beard"), Dr. Kyojō Niide (played by Toshirō Mifune). Dr. Niide may seem like a tyrannical task master, but in reality he is a compassionate clinic director. Initially, Yasumoto is livid at his posting, believing that he has little to gain from working under Akahige. Dr. Yasumoto feels that Dr. Niide is only interested in his medical notes and soon rebels against the clinic director. He refuses to wear his uniform, disdains the food and spartan environment, and enters the forbidden garden where he meets "The Mantis" (Kyōko Kagawa), a mysterious patient that only Dr. Niide can treat.

After falling ill, Yasumoto is nursed to health by the care and affection of a twelve year old girl who was saved from a brothel.

Through his observations of Dr. Niide's compassion and a series of destitute patients, Dr. Yasumoto learns what being a doctor really means. The lives of patients are more important than wealth or status. Their suffering can be ameliorated with compassion and conscientious care.


According to the commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD Red Beard is 185 minutes long and was shot at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It was Kurosawa's first film to make use of a magnetic 4-track stereo soundtrack and principal photography took two years. The set was intended to be historically accurate: the crew went as far as to use the right kind of aged wood that would have been used in the region at the time the film is set, at Kurosawa's request.

As a Kurosawa film

Red Beard is the last of numerous films in which Kurosawa worked with Mifune. In the DVD commentary, film scholar Stephen Prince mentions that Mifune's natural beard had to be maintained through the lengthy production, so he was unable to act in other films. The resulting financial stress on Mifune was one of the causes of the breakup between the actor and director.

According to Teruyo Nogami, Shugoro Yamamoto, the author of the novel Red Beard was based upon, approached Kurosawa after seeing the film and mentioned that he believed the film was good. Oguni, one of the scriptwriters of the film, however, stated Mifune portrayed the character of Red Beard incorrectly. This, Nogami says, caused Kurosawa for the first time to question Mifune's abilities, never again asking him to work on a film with him.

It is also Kurosawa's last black-and-white film. According to Prince, this is also the only Kurosawa film to feature nudity (in a scene where doctors suture a large wound on a young woman who was still semi-conscious).


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