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Red Beard: Where Yuzo Kayama 'is all wrong'

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    Ugetsu

    We’ve discussed previously the notion that Mifune may have been ‘all wrong’ for the part of Red Beard. I’ve previously put forward my theory that despite the name of the film, the central character and protagonist of the film is Yasumoto – or at least, that was the original intention. Yet I find it striking that in our previous discussions of the film while we variously discuss Mifune or Kyoko Kagawa’s wonderful portrayal of the Mantis (and this is reflected in most of the writing on the film I’ve seen), very little attention is paid to the central character.

    In some respects, I think this comes down to the script. His transformation from arrogant pup to dedicated doctor is all too predictable (even allowing for this particular cliche not to have been so well established when the film was made). But I wonder to what extent this is a failure of the actor, Yuzo Kayama, who was a very big star at the time (and I wasn’t aware until I looked at imdv that he was the son of that great actor of an earlier period, Ken Uehara). I can’t put my finger on what is wrong with the performance – in its own right it seems fine, and I think he’s very good in some scenes (especially the scene where he has to watch the old man dying where I think he does a fine job of conveying a young mans horror at having to watch the face of death). But, maybe because he is too much of a pretty boy among a range of much more characterful actors, there is something of a blankness about him and his character, I never found myself really wanting to see more of him.

    Its notable I think that Kurosawa does not seem to have used him again, contrary to his usual tendency to constantly re-use actors he likes. Previously, its been mentioned in another thread that perhaps a younger Mifune would have been perfect in the part. I wonder though if more realistically Tatsuya Nakadai would have been a better choice? And I wonder if perhaps with all the fuss about Mifune and Kurosawa, it was really Kayama who disappointed Kurosawa and let down the film?

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    lawless

    I’m going to add my two cents here without reference to any of the previous threads to which Ugetsu thoughtfully linked in his post. I read them when they were originally posted, but not only was that awhile ago, I hadn’t seen the movie at that point; in fact, I just watched it last week.

    I agree that Yasumoto is the protagonist of the film, irrespective of whose name is in the title. Niide occupies far less screen time than Yasumoto does, and most of the film is seen through Yasumoto’s POV. I also agree that Yasumoto’s something of a cipher. But while some of this sense of blankness may be attributable to Yuzo Kayama’s performance (I agree that Nakadai would have been a better choice, and in fact until I saw this post I mistakenly thought it was Nakadai and wondered why his performance was so lackluster), I think it’s more a problem with the script and/or the underlying story.

    Yasumoto is the lens through which we see Red Beard, his clinic, and the other characters, but Yasumoto isn’t made to be all that interesting a character in and of himself. He’s someone who observes and has things happen to him rather than making things happen. That’s just not that interesting.

    In the first half of the movie, rather than watch him sulk, I’d rather find out why he got sent to the clinic instead of to the Shogun in the first place. We do get an explanation later on, but it’s rushed and doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Are we really to believe that he never made any attempt to find out what happened? I assume his duties (to the extent he undertakes them) aren’t so all-consuming that he can’t write a letter or send a message.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    In the first half of the movie, rather than watch him sulk, I’d rather find out why he got sent to the clinic instead of to the Shogun in the first place. We do get an explanation later on, but it’s rushed and doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Are we really to believe that he never made any attempt to find out what happened? I assume his duties (to the extent he undertakes them) aren’t so all-consuming that he can’t write a letter or send a message

    That part of the film always seemed a bit ambiguous to me, I always assumed it made a bit more sense to a Japanese audience. My sense of it was that his family had a mix of motives to send him away by tricking him – but mostly because perhaps he was so angry at his mistreatment that he was embarrassing them and perhaps spoiling his own chances of getting accepted by the Shogun. I can see them thinking that sending them off to Niide would help him grow up and develop a bit of humility, while in the meanwhile they could concentrate on sorting out what was presumably a very humiliating problem with his ex-fiance. And he certainly would not have gone voluntarily, so they had to trick him.

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    Vili Maunula

    I wouldn’t really fault Kayama. Like lawless says, he is a point-of-view character, and I think that his blankness works well for that role. While he has his own issues, he allows us to follow the story and its world from a fairly neutral point of view. It works well enough for me.

    I also don’t know if I could see Nakadai in the role. He is an excellent actor, but at least based on the contemporary performances of his that I have seen — namely the ones in Yojimbo, Sanjuro and High and Low — something about the way he carries himself makes it difficult for me to imagine him in the role. His is perhaps a little too commanding a presence.

    Finally, I wanted to mention for the record that I think that when Ugetsu wrote “I’ve previously put forward my theory that despite the name of the film, the central character and protagonist of the film is Yasumoto”, he meant to link to the thread titled Red Beard: Yasumoto and the Women (correct me if I’m wrong!), where his central thesis is that the film is centrally not about the student/master relationship between Yasumoto and Red Beard, but is rather focusing on Yasumoto’s relationship with women.

    Right now the link, interestingly enough, points back to this thread.

    In any case, it’s an excellent post, and reading my responses to it from five years ago, I’m not sure if I was able to convincingly argue against it, although I certainly seem to have tried. For some reason.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Finally, I wanted to mention for the record that I think that when Ugetsu wrote “I’ve previously put forward my theory that despite the name of the film, the central character and protagonist of the film is Yasumoto”, he meant to link to the thread titled Red Beard: Yasumoto and the Women (correct me if I’m wrong!), where his central thesis is that the film is centrally not about the student/master relationship between Yasumoto and Red Beard, but is rather focusing on Yasumoto’s relationship with women.

    Yes indeed, sorry about the bad link, it was my intention to link to that post.

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    wolf

    Greetings and hello, I’m new. Just wanted to state that I really love this film. Truth is there probably isn’t a an AK film that I don’t like. Some I enjoy more than others. Red Beard has such a powerful story. Mifune’s performance is brilliant. The relationship between the veteran doctor and the upstart is beautiful. When the people call back the soul of the young boy…amazing! I weep every time.

    This isn’t much of a technical post or critical review but thanks for allowing me to join the group.

    Maybe with more time I can jump in farther.

    All the best!

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    Vili Maunula

    Welcome to the group, Wolf! Great to have you here!

    To throw you right into the discussion, what’s your take on Yuzo Kayama, the actor playing the young doctor Yasumoto?

    The well scene is indeed very powerful. I am still a little puzzled how they did the camera move in that scene.

    Ugetsu: Yes indeed, sorry about the bad link, it was my intention to link to that post.

    It may be the website starting to show its age. More and more strange stuff is happening behind the scenes. I really need to do an update soon. But I’ve been saying that for two years!

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    lawless

    I agree Nakadai has a more commanding presence, but that’s why I suggested him. I don’t think Yasumoto’s status as a POV character makes blankness the best or necessary choice, and I think Nakadai would add some badly needed dynamism while still providing the matter-of-fact quality the character requires. In fact, I think Mifune’s performance is muted by comparison to his usual, although I think that is more or less dictated by the way the role is written and the screentime he gets.

    As for the thesis Ugetsu advances in the other thread, now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I agree with the broad thesis that on the surface, the movie looks like a mentor/student story, but that it’s in fact about how Yasumoto’s encounters with various women transform him. However, I disagree with some of his specific points in support of that argument. Where I think the thesis goes off the rails is in universalizing this and saying that how women act upon and shape men is the theme of the movie, but then again, of all the regular contributors to the board, I’m the most resistant to drawing those sort of general conclusions. So I guess in a sense I agree with both Ugetsu and Vili on that score.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    As for the thesis Ugetsu advances in the other thread, now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I agree with the broad thesis that on the surface, the movie looks like a mentor/student story, but that it’s in fact about how Yasumoto’s encounters with various women transform him. However, I disagree with some of his specific points in support of that argument. Where I think the thesis goes off the rails is in universalizing this and saying that how women act upon and shape men is the theme of the movie, but then again, of all the regular contributors to the board, I’m the most resistant to drawing those sort of general conclusions. So I guess in a sense I agree with both Ugetsu and Vili on that score.

    I’d generally agree with you on this – I know I overstated the argument somewhat when I wrote that post (it was so long ago I’d forgotten my own theory!). I’m not convinced now that there is an overall ‘theme’ to the film at all, more a set of interlinked and not necessarily compatible themes and ideas. But I do think that the whole ‘master and teacher’ element is over rated and was never really intended to be the core of the film. The crucial thing is I think that the various digressions in the first half of the film are intended to directly reflect the unseen back story of Yasumoto. In this sense, the central narrative of the film is I think Yasumoto learning from the patients he encounters, not from Niide.

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