Red Beard (Akahige) (1965)

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Released 24-May-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Eastern Eye Trailers
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1965
Running Time 185:24
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (82:49) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Akira Kurosawa
Studio
Distributor
Toho Company
Madman Entertainment
Starring Toshirô Mifune
Yuzo Kayama
Tsutomu Yamazaki
Reiko Dan
Miyuki Kuwano
Kyôko Kagawa
Tatsuyoshi Ehara
Terumi Niki
Akemi Negishi
Yoshio Tsuchiya
Eijirô Tono
Chishu Ryu
Takashi Shimura
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Masaru Satô


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.55:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate. Arriving at a clinic is young medical student Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama), who is being groomed as the Shogun's next doctor. While he thinks he is just visiting, it turns out that he has been assigned there and his things arrive shortly after.

    The clinic is run by a gruff doctor with a slightly reddish beard named Kyojio Niide (Toshiro Mifune). At first Yasumoto is suspicious of the doctor and fails to comply with his forcible assignment to the clinic. He refuses to wear the white uniform of the staff and tries to do the opposite of everything expected of him, in the hope of being thrown out. But gradually he comes to realise that being a doctor requires him to be humble and make sacrifices.

    This is quite a change of pace for director Akira Kurosawa after a long series of samurai and modern-day crime thrillers. This long but absorbing film has more in common with his more reflective pieces, such as Drunken Angel, Ikiru and The Lower Depths. It is of a contemplative style to which he would return in his last three features, but of superior quality. It is something of a piece with American medical dramas, which were quite popular in the era both on screen (Not As a Stranger, The Interns) and television (Dr Kildare, Ben Casey). However, unlike those films it is not centred around the mentoring of a young intern by an elder and practised medical veteran. That element is there but the real journey is a personal one undertaken by Yasumoto, where he learns gradually by choosing to become involved in the lives of the patients that being a doctor is more than just administering medicine and getting paid a fee. He observes Red Beard in action and is not just lectured to. This makes the film feel like the workings of a novel, where the audience enters into the world of the characters and experiences the same sense of progression as the lead character.

    The story is told with simple sincerity and realism, without the usual cynicism and ironical self-awareness that has now become the trademark of the Western cinema. Whereas in a glossy Hollywood movie of the era the protagonist would be shown as torn between doing good and enjoying the riches that a high-paying job can provide, here the focus is on showing how a person can grow simply by doing the former. The moral tone of the film is strong, even though it is not always stated explicitly. Also impressive is that none of the characters are a stock figure. Each have their own lives and stories and none appear to be as good or as bad as they may first seem.

    This was a watershed film for Kurosawa. It was the last film he made in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the last in black and white. It would be the last time he would gather most of his stock company of actors as well, and it marks the final appearance of Toshiro Mifune under his direction after 15 previous collaborations. Mifune is very good as the gruff Niide, a more sedate and inward character than in their previous films together, though there is an opportunity for Niide to crack a few bones in what is an unusual scene. But the focus is more on Yasumoto, well played by Yuzo Kayama, a popular star of romantic comedies and a pop star. He is very sympathetic and expertly plays the character's growth over the course of the film.

    The leads are supported by a fine cast. Of note are Terumi Niki as the badly treated Otoyo and Haruko Sugimura as the shrewish Madam. Kyoko Kagawa also impresses as the young mad woman locked up in a house on the clinic grounds. Takashi Shimura makes a small cameo appearance as one of the local lord's retainers, arguably his last appearance in a Kurosawa film (his role was cut from the final version of Kagemusha, but has been restored in the recent Region 1 DVD version). The very small roles of Yasumoto's parents are played by Yasujiro Ozu's regular actor and alter ego Chishu Ryu and legendary screen actress Kinuyo Tanaka.

    The direction in this film is almost seamless, and Kurosawa makes expert use of the extra-wide screen. This extends to relatively simple scenes, such as when the four doctors are taking a meal together, to key events such as Yasumoto's close brush with death at the hands of the mad woman. It is aided by fine cinematography and detailed production design, even extending to using building materials of the era depicted. The film took some two years to make, and the care with which it was made shows through on the screen. It was a big commercial success in Japan but was not received quite so well overseas.

    Unfortunately, the collapse of the Japanese film economy would prevent Kurosawa from making another film for five years, and though he may have been at the peak of his abilities (he was just 55 when Red Beard was released) he was only able to complete two movies in the next 15 years. Red Beard is a fitting end to an era in Japanese filmmaking and is well worth seeing. A pity that this Region 4 release is not ideal.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is transferred in an aspect ratio of 2.53:1, not so close to the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    It appears to be the same transfer as used on the Criterion Region 1 release, but converted from NTSC to PAL. There is a consequent slight lack of sharpness and detail, which is exacerbated when either the actors move or the camera is mobile. The transfer also seems a little on the dark side, with less shadow detail than the US equivalent. Despite this the black and white tones are quite well rendered, with some solid blacks in evidence.

    Film-to-video artefacts are confined to some telecine wobble and aliasing, which is present on the woodwork of the clinic, on the tiled roof and on the spotted clothing Yasumoto chooses to wear before he dons the clinics clothing. There is also some ghosting indicative of an NTSC conversion.

    Film artefacts appear as white flecks, some pale scratches (more prevalent around the 53:30 mark) and a pale white spot which appears for a few seconds from 68:14.

    Subtitles are provided in white and appear mainly in the black bar below the frame. They are well timed and I did not notice any spelling or grammatical mistakes, however, American spelling is used.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change placed at 82:49. It is slightly disruptive as it is in the middle of a scene.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole audio track is Japanese Dolby Digital 4.0 stereo. This comprises audio for the front three speakers and a mono rear channel signal. This is the original audio mix of the film, which was a four track magnetic soundtrack in Perspecta Stereophonic Sound. Apparently this was the last Perspecta soundtrack released.

    The sound is very good, with some stereo separation enhanced by the dialogue being centred using the centre speaker. There are some directional effects from the main speakers, and the rear kick into life occasionally for music or effects, for example the landslide at 71:30. Dialogue comes across clearly and there is no distortion, pops or clicks.

    The music score by Masaru Sato is a fine one, used sparingly but it never draws much attention to itself. It sounds very good in this stereo incarnation.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Not much in the way of extras.

Main Menu Audio

    Some of the music score can be heard with the static main menu.

Theatrical Trailer (3:56)

    An interesting trailer which includes some behind-the-scenes footage of the filming as well as the recording of the score.

Trailer-Eastern Eye Trailers (22:35)

    Trailers for Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai, The Grudge, Volcano High, Arahan, Bruce Lee: The Lost Interview, Full Metal Alchemist, Twelve Kingdoms, Inuyasha, plus the usual Eastern Eye Montage.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I have the US Region 1 release which comes from the Criterion company. This release is superior to the Region 4 in terms of video quality and extras. Aside from being a native NTSC transfer, it has better contrast, none of the aliasing or ghosting problems of the Region 4 and is more detailed. The same film artefacts appear in both releases, indicating that the same original material was used. The Region 4 is probably just a conversion of Toho's NTSC master, which is probably the same NTSC master provided to Criterion. A credit for Toho is shown on the Region 4 case, but not for Criterion or Janus Films. A Janus Films logo appears on screen before the feature on the Region 1 but not on the Region 4.

    The running time of both is nearly the same, with the Region 4 being a few seconds longer. The Region 1 is in an aspect ratio of 2.30:1 and has two extras that the Region 4 does not, being:

    The Region 1 misses out on nothing.

    There is a UK Region 2 edition from the BFI. This has non-removable electronic subtitles in yellow. It has a video introduction by Alex Cox, director and star biographies and a stills slideshow. From screen caps I have seen the Criterion seems to be slightly cropped on the left hand side when compared to the Region 2, but the latter is slightly cropped at the bottom of the frame. The aspect ratio is 2.42:1.

    An All Regions disc from Hong Kong company Mei Ah looks pretty poor and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The Region 2 Japanese release from Toho has a making of documentary but no English subtitles.

    When all is said and done the Criterion is the best version available.

Summary

    The usual masterpiece from Akira Kurosawa.

    The video quality is disappointing.

    The audio quality is very good.

    A small extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Running time longer than NTSC version??? - Anonymous
Reply to Anonymous - John R