Red Beard

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Red Beard
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced byRyūzō Kikushima
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Screenplay byMasato Ide
Ryūzō Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Hideo Oguni
Based onAkahige shinryōtan
by Shūgorō Yamamoto
StarringToshiro Mifune
Yūzō Kayama
Music byMasaru Sato
CinematographyAsakazu Nakai
Takao Saito
Edited byAkira Kurosawa
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • April 3, 1965 (1965-04-03) (Japan)
  • January 19, 1966 (1966-01-19) (US)
Running time
185 minutes

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 shinryōtan (赤ひげ診療譚). Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Humiliated and Insulted provided the source for a subplot about a young girl, Otoyo (Terumi Niki), who is rescued from a brothel.[1]

The film looks at the problem of social injustice and explores two of Kurosawa's favourite topics: humanism and existentialism. A few critics have noted the film to be reminiscent in some ways of Ikiru. Red Beard is the last black and white film of Kurosawa. The film was a major box office success in Japan but is notorious for having caused a rift between Mifune and Kurosawa, with this being the final collaboration between them after working on 16 films together.


The film takes place in Koishikawa, a district of 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, a position currently held by a close relative; his father is already a well-established, highly competent physician. Yasumoto believes that he should progress through the safe, and well-protected, army structure of medical education. However, 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 Toshiro 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.

As Yasumoto struggles to come to terms with his situation, the film tells the story of a few of the clinic's patients. One of them is Rokusuke, a dying man whom Dr. Niide discerns is troubled by a secret misery that is only revealed when his desperately unhappy daughter shows up. Another is Sahachi, a well-loved man of the town known for his generosity to his neighbors, who has a tragic connection to a woman whose corpse is discovered after a landslide. Dr. Niide brings Yasumoto along to rescue a sick twelve-year-old girl from a brothel (fighting off a local gang of thugs to do so) and then assigns the girl to Yasumoto as his first patient. Through his efforts to heal the traumatized girl, Yasumoto begins to understand the magnitude of cruelty and suffering around him as well as his power to ease that suffering, and learns to regret his vanity and selfishness.

When Yasumoto himself falls ill, he is nursed back to health by the care and affection of Otoyo, the twelve-year-old girl who was saved from the 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 sufferings can be ameliorated with compassion and conscientious care.


According to Stephen Prince's commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD Red Beard 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.[2]



The film opened to highly positive reviews in Japan with many happening to refer to it as Kurosawa's magnum opus. However, the film garnered mixed response from the Western audience and failed commercially.[3]

The film has an aggregate of 73% on rotten tomatoes based on 15 critic reviews.[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars on a review made on 26 December 1969 and mentioned, "Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard is assembled with the complexity and depth of a good 19th–century novel, and it's a pleasure, in a time of stylishly fragmented films, to watch a director taking the time to fully develop his characters."[5] Michael Sragow of The New Yorker wrote, "This 1965 film,the last of Akira Kurosawa's collaboration with Toshiro Mifune, is often derided as a soap opera. But the story of a grizzled nineteenth-century doctor nicknamed Red Beard(Mifune) and his green physician(Yuzo Kayama) who learns human medical values from him — is actually a masterpiece."[6]


  1. ^ Stephen Prince commentary to Criterion Collection DVD release
  2. ^ "Red Beard". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  3. ^ "50 years ago today: Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard released". 3 April 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  4. ^ Rotten Tomatoes. "Red Beard 1965". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (26 December 1969). "Red Beard movie review & film summary 1969(Roger Ebert)". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  6. ^ The New Yorker. "Red Beard :The New Yorker". Retrieved 8 January 2020.

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