Saturday, August 12, 2017
Akira Kurosawa | 赤ひげ (Akahige) / Red Beard
by Douglas Messerli
Masato Ide, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, and Hideo Oguni (writers, based on the stories of Shūgorō Yamamoto and a novel by Dostoevsky), Akira Kurosawa (director) 赤ひげ (Akahige) / Red Beard / 1965, USA 1966
Kurosawa’s 1965 masterwork, Red Beard, based on a group of short stories by Shūgorō Yamamoto, is, accordingly, episodic in its structure. But it is all also, oddly enough, a kind of epic, running for 185 minutes and with a full musical interlude; but unlike the large epic Hollywood westerns (a form that Kurosawa also was attracted to) or the biblical dramas so popular of the 1950s and early 60s, this work is an epic, hard to imagine, about the late 19th-century medical profession. One might even describe it as an epic about dying. And, even more unusual, its major narrative strategy is wound around a series of death-bed confessions.
The various “confessions” that the film’s director weaves together include a mad woman, nicknamed “The Mantis,” (Kyōko Kagawa), who has killed a husband