Monday, March 28, 2011

Red Beard - Movie Review

Watched Akira Kurosawa's 'Red Beard'. It is the story of a doctor Yasumoto who is just out of college and is looking for an elite appointment. Coming from a well-off family where his own father is a reputed doctor Yasumoto has high ambitions of being personal physician to the Shogunate. But fate has other plans as he is deputed to a rural clinic for his post graduate training under Doctor Niide, more famously known as 'Red Beard' for his reddish beard.

Red Beard runs his hospital well and with strict discipline. He cares for the poorest of the poor, for those who have no place o go and sometimes even for those who do not want to get treated. His staff is well disciplined and everyone works many hours each day in service of the several poor patients - and they all seem to work for almost nothing except for the love of curing these desperately ill people. Young Dr. Yasumoto rebels, does not wear the uniform, does not do the duties he is assigned to. But he is slowly drawn into the suffering of these people, these mysterious ways of the doctor, the patients themselves.

And so the story is told in a leisurely, meandering fashion of the many inmates and their stories. From the mad woman who is locked up because she is a danger to other people having killed three people already, to the old man who is suffering from a rare kind of cancer and who has no one of his own, to the helpful man who seems to have no one and who helps everyone at the cost of his own life to the young syphilis ridden 12 year old who is so ridden by guilt that she scrubs floors as a penance - the stories are many. Just as the ways of the Doctor Niide are. He fights off toughs and rescues the 12 year old prostitute whom he deputes to Dr. Yasumoto, he visits rich clients who have imaginary illnesses, he blackmails the magistrate with some private information so he can help a destitute woman - the daughter of one of his patients. Red Beard's ways are unconventional but his heart is in the right place as Dr. Yasumoto soon realises. At the end of the movie Dr. Yasumoto decides to stay back at the rural clinic where there is no money and fame nor comfort.

The black and white movie is long, really long. Almost three hours. The intermission came at 1 hour and fifty minutes. But it is gripping as he deals with human suffering, with punishment, with desire, with single minded duty, with attachment, with retribution in simple stories. The story of the 12 year old prostitute and her love for Dr. Yasumoto is tender. But the story of the young thief who steals gruel from the hospital for his staving family wrenches your heart. In the scenes where the girl, barely out of her trauma offers him food and tells him not to rob if he can help it, is beautiful. Just as the scene when the maids and the girl rush to the well to call back his spirit when they believe he is dying because his family consumes poison because he has been caught thieving hits your gut. In little stories of ordinary people Kurosawa explores the gamut of human existence, its purpose and its pointlessness, and how we must strive on in spite of it all. Because it might make a small difference somewhere, to someone and it is not for us to decide who is worthy of it or not.

It is certainly a movie that one cannot forget easily because the pictures, the characters haunt you for a long time after the movie is over. And nowhere does Kurosawa resort to any dramatics - everything is sublimely natural, painfully human. You need no extra drama, no music to prod tears. The honest, understated emotion is enough.

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