Red Beard - The Illuminated Well

Quick Thoughts: Red Beard (Akahige, 1965)

A just-out-of-medical-school doctor from a wealthy family is sent to a clinic in an impoverished area under a stern, yet wise head doctor.

Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard is a film of a very rare class. There are good films, there are classics, there are great films, there are masterpieces, and each pool is smaller than the last, but then there are masterpieces above masterpieces; films that not only excel in regards to almost every detail of their design, but transcend your ideals of what cinema can and should do. Red Beard is then instantly recognisable as the kind of film you dream you could endlessly watch for the first time ever, over and over again - which leaves the ending strangely bittersweet. I personally find this to be the case with the likes of Tarkovsky's The Mirror, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, Bergman's Cries And Whispers, Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, Ozu's Tokyo Story, Dulac's The Seashell And The Clergyman, Flemming's Gone With The Wind, Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream, Fellini's I Vitelloni, Murnau's Sunrise and now Kurosawa's Red Beard. I have loved plenty of Kurosawa's films so far - Ikiru and Seven Samurai in particular - but none hit me like Red Beard. Much like Bresson manages to with films such as Pickpocket and Au Hasard Balthazar, Kurosawa seems to leave everything on the page and on the celluloid. And in such, Red Beard is a series of simple moral episodes that build towards a coming-of-age story that, despite its simplicity, has an impossible amount of poignancy and depth. Whilst many films have an incredible depth to them, what separates films like Au Hasard Balthazar and Red Beard apart from these narratives is the fact that their well of subtext is entirely illuminated; you can see right down to the bottom. And thus these films speak openly and for themselves better than almost anyone could manage. The predicament I am then left in with this movie is that there is so much that could be said, but so few words that would add to this narrative. The little I may be able to say about Red Beard that may not have hit you already then seems unsubstantial - and so maybe this is a task I will try to face at a later date.

But, all I can now repeat is that Red Beard is a very rare film. Some films are good, some are classics, some are masterpieces, some are masterpieces above masterpieces; some pictures have a thousand words to be found and articulated, and some pictures have a thousand words that seem perpetually out of reach, yet very much so in plain sight - and, truly, they are a sight to behold.

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