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- Woodcock, John
Set in 19th-century Japan, the film’s action centers on the experience of the young doctor Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) in his work as an intern at a hospital-clinic for the poor run by the experienced and wise Dr. Kyojo Niide (Toshiro Mifune), nicknamed "Red Beard." Coming from a wealthy and influential family, and fresh from a Western-influenced medical education at Nagasaki, Yasumoto had believed he was on the path to become physician to the shogun (equivalent to a king).
He is initially insulted and deeply unhappy with conditions at the distinctly inglorious clinic. The poverty and suffering (and smell) of the clinic’s patients disgust him, and he tries his hardest to get fired. The mysterious Red Beard, however, is extremely patient, and simply waits. While he waits, we see Dr. Yasumoto slowly being converted as he is brought into close contact with the suffering in the lives of several patients.
Initially rebellious and emotionally unable to watch patients die or assist in surgery, Yasumoto gradually becomes a seasoned and enthusiastic member of the clinic’s medical team and announces that Red Beard is his idol. At the end, when Yasumoto is actually offered the position of physician to the shogun, he refuses, in order to continue his work at the clinic.