Sight and Sound - 11/01/2003
"...Meticulous and perfectionist as ever, Kurosawa had an entire small town constructed for the film..."
Uncut - 01/01/2004
In his final collaboration with Akira Kurosawa, Toshir˘ Mifune portrays Dr. Kyojio "Red Beard" Niide, a gruff but caring head doctor at a 19th-century clinic for the poor. Sorely in need of competent assistance, Red Beard takes on a new intern, the ambitious Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama). However, Yasumoto isn't made aware of his appointment until after he's visited the facility and seen its grim conditions and impoverished patients. Initially, the brash young physician rebels against the wise elder and declines his duties, but gradually Yasumoto begins to respect Red Beard and his difficult yet essential work. As Yasumoto slowly acclimates to the clinic, the story also follows the lives (and deaths) of various patients.
Truly the end of an era, RED BEARD marks the dissolution of the Kurosawa/Mifune partnership and also Kurosawa's last black-and-white production. Although surprisingly little has been written about the rift between Mifune and Kurosawa, it's likely that tensions were largely due to the film's grueling two-year shoot. Despite the drama behind the camera, RED BEARD remains one of Kurosawa's underrated classics. Although Mifune is best known for his earlier roles as an impetuous youth, here he gives a mature, though no less vital, performance, echoing the mentor character Takashi Shimura played in STRAY DOG, SEVEN SAMURAI, and other Kurosawa movies. (However, Mifune does get one action-packed, YOJIMBO-worthy fight scene.) In turn, Kayama admirably fills the role of the headstrong young intern. A sort of period-piece MASH or ER, RED BEARD is a moving drama that uses doctors and patients to address the timeless notion of trying to be a good person in an often cruel world.