[From October Issue 2012]
Red Beard (Directed by KUROSAWA Akira)
This is a human drama set in Koishikawa Yojosho, a free clinic built for the poor in 1772 by the Edo government. The film opened to the public in 1965. Winning a prize at the Venice International Film Festival, it was highly regarded not only in Japan, but also abroad. The film is based on a novel whose protagonist is the doctor who put forward the idea of building Yojosho. The novel has been adapted into TV dramas many times.
The film was directed by KUROSAWA Akira and the part of NIIDE Kyojo – affectionately nicknamed Red Beard – was played by MIFUNE Toshiro, an actor who often appeared in Kurosawa films. The film is also known for being the last Kurosawa work in which Mifune starred. The plot develops through the eyes of YASUMOTO Noboru, a young man who sets out to learn how to be a physician from Red Beard. Yasumoto is played by KAYAMA Yuzo, an actor who was known for appearing in a series of comedies about campus life.
Having just finished his studies in modern Western medicine in Nagasaki, Yasumoto’s future as a top physician at a government medical institution is guaranteed. However, while he was pursuing his studies in Nagasaki, his fiancée fell in love with another man, so Yasumoto finds himself in the depths of despair. In this state of mind he reluctantly visits Yojosho after being ordered by the government to go and meet Niide.
Instructed by Niide to practice medicine in a small room packed with patients wearing filthy clothes, Yasumoto takes offence. So by taunting Niide – breaking the rules by drinking alcohol on the job and taking naps when he should be treating patients – he tries to provoke Niide into kicking him out, but these tactics do not work.
One day, Yasumoto was ordered to accompany Niide on a house call and is told to take care of a twelve-year-old girl, his first patient. After being forced to work in a brothel she’s suffering both mentally and physically. At first she refuses to have her temperature taken or to take any medicine, but as Yasumoto devotes himself to caring for her, she begins to open up her heart and her health improves. This gives him confidence as a physician and he begins to admire Niide who sweats blood for the poor.
Meanwhile the younger sister of Yasumoto’s former fiancée visits again and again to apologize on behalf of her sister. Touched by this gesture, feelings of forgiveness towards his ex-fiancée begin to take root. His parents then advise him to marry this younger sister and he finally accepts the suggestion after giving it some hard thought. Around the same time, the order comes in from the government to go and work for a medical institution. When Yasumoto comes face to face with both sets of parents for yuinou (exchanging engagement gifts), he tells them about a decision he’s come to.
Built inside Koishikawa Oyakuen, a garden in which the Edo government cultivated medicinal herbs and other plants, Koishikawa Yojosho was known as being a medical facility for treating the poor for some 140 years, up till the end of Edo era. Today Oyakuen is a postgraduate botanical research facility of Tokyo University and under the name of Koishikawa Botanical Gardens it is open to the public. A well that has been kept in good condition since the Edo era was used to provide citizens with drinking water in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.