Dislocation, dislocation, dislocation!
When I picked my 10 favourites recently I said how difficult it was to pick a favourite film by the great Akira Kurosawa. I quite surprised my self when I picked AKAHIGE/Red Beard(1965) as one of my two favourites from the great man. RED BEARD was a huge hit in Japan and rightly hailed as a masterpiece but fared less well in Europe and America where critics (except for the real Kurosawa afficinados) thought that the plot was a bit "soapy" - well if it is then Kurosawa transcends the material as surely as critic's darling (and I mean no disrespect to him) Douglas Sirk ever did. RED BEARD is a long film but for me is totally gripping from beginning to end.
It is in turn, moving, exciting and, in one memorable scene, scarey as hell. The plot tells of a young doctor in 18th Century Japan who goes to work at a public clinic run by an unconventional doctor (think HOUSE and you're still miles off target) with a reputation for being awkward. The film has many outstanding moments that I could have picked as my movie snapshot including the memorable scene where Toshiro Mifune as the doctor is threatened by a gang of pimps and he proceeds to dislocate their limbs in a fight scene as exciting as any sword fight that Kurosawa ever filmed. But my choice is of a scene very early in the film when the young intern is first taken to meet Mifune. He has heard of his reputation and is very nervous. Another intern takes him to Mifune's office and slides to one side the partition. Unexpectedly, because of the build up, Mifune is kneeling with his back to the door. The two younger men kneel in the Japanese manner and the introduction is made. Mifune still does not turn. The moment is held, maybe for only a few seconds but we, like the newcomer feel it is an eternity. Suddenly Mifune turns and stares at the younger me and again Kurosawa holds the moment for full effect. And what an effect it is! Immeadiatley we, the viewer, become that young doctor facing the scrutiny of our fearsome new boss. This small sequence is a wonderful example of both Kurosawa's power as a director - the suspenseful buildup, the seeming anti-climax and then the climax that draws the audience into the scene - knowing just how long to hold each shot - and of Mifune's fantastic presence as an actor. In that glaring look we know everything we need to know about the character at this point in the film. He has authority, is unconventional, is a bit scarey but is so charismatic that we are drawn to him and want to know more. Brilliant. Luckily the very moment is captured in a still.