Saturday, October 8, 2011

ER in Early Tokyo

Red Beard

One of the things I love about Akira Kurosawa is his ability to take films that are in completely different situations, and turn them into high drama.  Sure, it’s easy when you are doing a version of Macbeth (Throne of Blood) or King Lear (Ran), but this film is about a medical clinic in a poor area of Edo (which in a later era becomes Tokyo).  Could high drama be found here?  Perhaps the stakes aren’t as high as Ran or even The Seven Samurai, but this film expresses the drama of each human life, even the “small” life.  Red Beard is about the drama of compassion.

Technical—4/5—Nothing spectacular, but pretty sharp film quality for its era.  The script and direction are marvelous, if not exceptional.

Interest—5/5—Every time a story arc ends, there is another that has already started.  It is a powerful drama, filled with a number of laugh-out-loud moments, not least the out-of-context fight at the brothel.

Tension—4/5—At first, it seems pretty light, but as we follow the experiences of the new doctor, we join him as he bit by bit becomes more involved with those in the clinic.  At first, we have a bit of curiosity, then we experience the horror of death, then we appreciate the tragic story of the life of a good man, and then finally we are weeping at the tragedy of a small character.  I think I lost a bit of tension because I’d seen it just a year ago, but give me another year and I’ll be ready to see it again.

Emotional—5/5—Played me like a yo-yo, and I'd go through it all again, just for the enjoyment of the emotional manipulation.

Characters—5/5—This is the final pairing of Kurosawa and Mifune, but Mifune is as brilliant as he ever was.  He plays the title character with that perfect balance of seriousness and willingness to make fun of himself that is so well done.  The character of the girl taken from the brothel is also perfectly played.  I wish that some of the smaller roles were given more room to develop.

Theme—4/5 Compassion over honor.  Pretty basic, but well done.

Ethics—5/5—There are no deep ethical questions brought up here, we are all familiar with the stakes here.  However the rewards of a life of compassion, as dubious as they are, are clearly presented.

Personal—5/5—I hope I’m not boasting, but it is my attempt to be a man like Red Beard and to create a community of help like he did.  And I think that this, more than anything else, is what touches me about this film and makes it my favorite of Kurosawa’s films.

Mifune's doctor is an amazing character, (if one ignores his out-of-the-blue martial arts scene).  He is quiet, gruff and tough on his doctors.  Yet we love him so.  How is it that we want to identify with him so much, even though his lifestyle is so far from most of our own?  It is because, in the end, we all desire to be good.  We don't have to be as good as Mother Teresa, but we want to be seen as compassionate and caring in at least some aspect of our lives.  And Mifune invites us to identify with him.  We can, if only for a couple hours, can be the compassionate hero.

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