An ambitious and arrogant young intern finds himself in a rural clinic for the poor against his wishes, but soon finds there is more to life than wealth and status under the tutelage of a severe but kindhearted doctor.
Red Beard is almost Dickensian in it’s melding of period drama and social commentary, all told with a decidedly left wing slant. The Siu clinic is a fledgling welfare state where treatment is free to the needy, and Kurosawa takes great pains to illustrate that a man’s worth is not the sum of his material possessions. The film is structured into a series of short stories centring around different patients, each with a tragic event in their past. The finest example is the final story of Ting, a young girl suffering abuse at the hands of a brothel’s madam who slowly learns that there are good people in the world, after being rescued in a great scene in which Red Beard ably doles out the injuries he later heals.
Red Beard is a very long film which is rather short on action compared to his samurai films, but it’s also a genuinely touching, heartwarming and good natured tale that is Kurosawa at his most human.