Conversations with Ben VIII
On today's agenda: Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard
(Brace yourself. This is a long one)
The fact that I need to reference Ikiru in order to explicate my take on RB itself indicates in what esteem I regard RB. I do see it as a companion to the earlier - still the greatest Kurosawa - film. In my view, RB addresses the question of the meaning of life from the same angle as IK only inside-out, for lack of better dialectical language. Front and center for both of them is the direct confrontation with death, not is some metaphorical manner; no, the real physical snuff job, with all the bodily suffering in tow. And this confrontation is the existential defining moment of how to live, what it is to be a human in touch with your humanity and not an alienated waste. The difference between the films, however, is the difference between looking inward so you can look out and looking outward so you can look in. So in IK, it is the way of death of the protagonist himself that makes him bond with others, whereas in RB it is the way of death of others that makes the protagonist find himself. Both protagonists are reborn as authentically social beings, morally committed and politically active insofar as they use their occupational positions and skills to serve the working class. But I here postpone further exploration of either the mortality-existentialism or the proto-socialism of the films. I hope you will grant me this, at least provisionally. So given this, what I want to flesh out is my view of the films as inverted twins.
Wantanabe looks inward. At the cancer in his belly. At his own personal history. At his privately lived life. He is all alone and has only his own hitherto squandered resources to draw upon, the catalytic inspiration he draws from the young girl from the office notwithstanding. This is to say, that he must be his own teacher. Such self-acquisition of wisdom can only be conducted by a relatively old person. And with the arrival of his epiphany, his enlightenment becomes real as he actually does something and becomes a leader. His rewards are obvious. Purpose, community, peace of mind, joy. Turning to RB, contrary to the title, the center of the story is, of course, the young doctor, Yasumoto. His journey, substantially the same as Wantanabe's (see above), is exactly the opposite. It is the same path but it is trod upon by the young man. The young man does not have enough experience to be his own teacher. If he is searching for the truth, he will seek out a teacher. But if he is not searching for the truth, his encounter with a teacher may or may not change his life. In this regard, there must always be a moment of inner discovery. At the beginning of RB we meet a young doctor who has laboured under the title character and has failed to seize the ethical opportunity. He remains cynical. But Yasumoto rises to the challenge and then some. As in IK, his epiphany arrives, but unlike in IK, in RB it in not private, it is public, because of and with his teacher. So as Yasumoto's enlightenment becomes real through praxis, he becomes not a leader but a follower, with great potential for leadership in the future. His rewards are those of Wantanabe.
Who makes the greater sacrifice, Wan or Yas? Another way to ask the same question: Which portrayal of enlightenment is more realistic? The easiest way to answer that for those of us located in the Judeo-Christian culture is: Which of the two is more like Jesus Christ? The winner of this contest is the character who personally suffers the most. And the winner is Wan. But stay with me, because according to Ben, the more Christ-like, the less realistic. (Do I have to develop this thesis? Christ is the ultimate hero and you know how bogus I think heroes are.) So it is Yas who is more realistic. He is more realistic precisely because he can't do it alone, he needs social relations, his development is civic in the best Latin sense of the term. He suffers publicly. Wan, on the other hand, sucks it up, in every sense of the term. His suffering is absolutely private. He's a martyr. (At the end of City Lights, Chaplin gives the little tramp public recognition by the was-blind girl [the unrealistic license in that film] in the tramp's own lifetime. Nobody knows that Wan had cancer until after his passing, the novelist-stranger and the girl from the office notwithstanding.) It's as if Jesus was invisible on the cross until his corporeal self was removed and only the dripping nails remained. Stephen Prince points out, correctly I believe, that one of the great strengths of IK is that it fundamentally avoids what Hollywood turns into an orgy - the explicit demonstration of the physical agony of the terminally ill central character. For the most part, we do not see Wan suffer physically. Prince is right but at the same time, this is the unrealistic aspect of the film. The banal truth is, Wan would have been too riddled with pain at the end to walk down the street, never mind lead a little revolution. It may surprise you to know that I am not criticizing IK for this unrealistic device. It don't criticize City Lights for its concession either. These little lies allow the film-makers to tell a much bigger truth. And IK is a greater film than RB. Yet I wanted to establish the greater realism of RB as a context for my next issue; namely, the optimistic-happy feeling of RB as distinct from the pessimistic-sorrowful tone of IK.
In earlier emails we have already addressed the desperate post-war circumstance conditioning IK. Approximately 15 years later, in 1965, RB is coming out of a time when Japan is undergoing renewed economic prosperity, full assimilation into the global capitalist system under favorable terms of trade. And Kurosawa has achieved a fair amount of international success himself. I don't have the biographical facts down, but I suspect he was at the peak of his fame and commercial clout. In short, life is a hell of a lot better than it was when half of Japan was actually dying of stomach cancer. Kurosawa can afford to indulge in the goodness of people. Hence, RB has, Monica observed, an almost Dickensian faith in good people to do good and come out all right in the end. The adoption of the orphan at the end of Rashomon rings false, or at least demands fancy interpretation. But RB is all about this kind of love. All the characters are adopting each other all over the place in every conceivable way. Plot-necessary villains aside, the best is brought out in everyone. There's a few Gift Of The Magi mix-ups, with less happy conclusions than O'Henry would have provided, but it's all good. The film is tremendously uplifting. Really, really positive man! Considering the whole show is about dealing with death, considering that the medical craft is presented as let's-be-honest-folks nothing more than palliative care - the good vibes mean so much and the film kicks high moral ass.
I have argued that RB is more realistic than IK and I have reminded us that it is much more upbeat. I now return us to the previously postponed existential and socialistic (I won't over-state it and say socialist) strands in Kurosawa's cinematic universe. IK is ostensibly the more political film. It is set in the present. It eviscerates the government bureaucracy for both its feudal vestiges and false American promises in the face of proletarian poverty. But I maintain that RB is ultimately a more political film. It's just that its politics are embedded in an ideal of a humane society. RB is a microcosmic model of a perfectly cooperative and, at bedrock, egalitarian polity. It is a sort of mini-village of morally transparent social relations. Granted, the economic basis of this unalienated little town is in no way utopian. The dependence on the state for financing and the need to extort inflated service fees from the wealthy in the real world is all too plain. Similarly, the little boy who steals rice from the hospital kitchen sends the same signal in the other direction. But the way everyone gets along in the hospital, it's like a hippy commune, except with a traditional division of labour between men and women, skilled labour and unskilled, and so on; it is, after all, a period piece. But again I say, the depiction of the hospital community is a projection of a socialistic society, attending to the hard core of existential doom of course. But isn't the best test for a system the way it helps those who are most helpless?
OK, that's a lot to read. So much for themes and content. I have a few things to say about the construction of RB, but I will go at this in a later installment. Time to sleep. By the way, in case you missed it, I like RB... very much. Thanks.
And Dan replies:
What's so profound about Ikiru, for me, is that this is a movie made by a man who still had forty years of living to do. He wasn't a young man, but Ikiru has the wisdom the we associate with age. That is, the lessens Watanable learns and way he reshapes and rededicates his life feels like the kind of signature statement you'd expect of an artist as he neared the end of his career, not as he was approaching the apex of his talents. The film is really quite remarkable in that regard alone, never mind the rest of the things (performance, cinematography, editing, score blah blah blah) that serve to emphasize its greatness.
Then, as you note, Red Beard is a young man's story, yet it is the film that marks, for many of us, the end of the Golden Age of Kurosawa. It is the sort of artistic comment you'd expect to see at the beginning of a career, a mission statement for his art, yet here he is rededicating himself to such matters just as his powers begin their slow decline into mere good-ness. It would be and interesting experiment to show these two films to someone who has never heard of Kurosawa and ask them how old they thought the filmmaker of each was. I guess it is yet more proof of the man's superior skills and expansive outlook on life that he was capable of making each film at such a point in his life.
I'm not sure if Yas makes a greater sacrifice that Wan, but I sure as hell believe he makes the more realistic conversion to the cause. Wan's conversion takes place pretty much all on his very own (once he escapes the writer and the bubbly fellow employee), and his ability to stick it out, to maintain the course of his cause while all about him conspire to make it nigh-impossible strikes me as the kind of superhuman achievement that few of us could really aspire to emulate. Yas, on the other hand, is converted through deed after deed, through an immersion into a world that wears down his arrogance and self-involvement, that pretty much dares him to remain separate and distinct from it. Further, once Yas throws himself into the fray and joins the cause, he has a network of support that would be pretty much essential for most of us who decided to dedicate our lives selflessly to greater/higher causes.
I know that we have already discussed the Chaplinesque-ness of Red Beard, and both Monica and I completely concur on Kurosawa's indebtedness to Dickens (alls that's missing is a "god bless us, every one" at the end of the poisoned child/family episode), but I'm going to say something that will be anathema to those who hold literature far above film in the pantheon of artistic endeavours. I believe that both Ikiru and Red Beard are BETTER than most of Dickens' work, because they have a more clearly enunciated understanding of the social reality of the characters. K does not rely upon artificial conventions, such as the kind of coincidence that mars the ending of Great Expectations or Oliver Twist, or the sudeen emergence of the saviour benevolent benefactor, to get his characters out of jams. Conclusions emerge out of reality in Kurosawa, and sometimes those conclusions are damned bleak (Ikiru, Ran). And even the relative optimism of Red Beard is well-earned and does not without substantial emotional and material costs to the characters.
Great commentary, by the way, Ben. This really has my wheels turning. Looking forward to plunging into part two later tonight.
Had to go back and look at what I said, not in general but precisely. Because as it turns out, when I asked you to "stay with me" you didn't quite make a corner-turn with me. Frankly, I think the fault lies with my convoluted writing. I was pretty excited about RB and this excitement effected my prose.
Anyway, I never said and now do not say that Yas makes the bigger sacrifice than Wan. No, my view is the opposite and this means - in turn - that Yas is more realistic than Wan, the latter you picked up correctly. Look, Wan is a saint. I was trying to get at this with all that martyr comparison to Christ. A saint is a moral superhero, (for Christ's sake!) Yas is much more realistic. I was at pains to highlight the social leveling content of this realism (see my RB Part Two) but even without getting into this, you get at the social realism when you speak of his "conversion" and the "network" supporting it. Wan, on the other hand, has an essentially solitary epiphany.
Your biographical consideration of Kurosawa is thoughtful. All I can add is that he seems to have undergone a mid-life dark night of the soul prior to the making of Ikiru. Perhaps there was some delayed post-war trauma involved. His older brother did kill himself, right? And K would take a stab at suicide himself later on. As for sorting out a signature-statement and a mission-statement between the two films, well, I side-stepped that by thinking of the two films as twin companions, as inversions of each other. This may or may not be valid but at least I come by it honestly; i.e., I am relating them dialectically. For what it is worth, one of the favorite dialectics of the New Left (now ancient) was: the personal is political. Signature is mission?
About Dickens. I have never read one word of him. So there. (I'm a jive English teacher. There is very little literature that I have read. Most of my reading has been in non-fiction; philosophy, political theory, sociology, tit-fucking magazines.) I have a pretty good notion about "Dickensian style, themes, and period, though. For what it's worth, I have read a bit of Balzac and he is free of the 11th hour, good-guy contrivances of which you speak. I think I make your point as well when I say that RB does not go so far as O'Henry does. (Yes, I've read some of him. Why him and not Dickens I can't explain.)
I think I can explain why one over the other. O Henry generally takes about twenty minutes to read. Or, about one really good shit.
As I am writing even more than usual, I want to say that I understand that you have a life and will respond to me when the time is right for you. Indeed, this should be a standing policy.
Last dispatch, I indicated that I was done dealing with themes and content and would next address matters of construction. As it turns out, I was wrong. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I want to hammer on the red anvil some more. [Warning: Big paragraph below.]
I am using the term "socialistic" rather than "socialist" to suggest that RB has only a partial and highly mediated implication of socialist values that, admittedly, I have to unpack. Nevertheless, I maintain that I am, in fact, unpacking and not simply imposing an external rubric on the film. This is to say that I feel it is internally valid to the film to interpret it beyond the designation that is commonly applied to Kurosawa in general, "humanist." On what grounds do I argue this? On the egalitarian extent of the social leveling depicted in the context of work. In the first part of this review I acknowledged that there is still a division of labour in the hospital that has not leveled the discrepancies between men and women, skilled and unskilled. On the other hand now, the hospital is in no way a hierarchy. Initially it is hinted that Red Beard is a ball-busting tyrant. He turns out to be the farthest thing from it. Instead of a boss, he is an example. Not a ruler, a leader. As the film progresses, everyone working at the hospital is shown to be performing different but equally valuable work. And their status within the organization is revealed to be equal too. In short, the patriarchal dimension of such a Japanese hospital in the 19th Century, (patriarchy is not just the rule of men over women, it is also that of fathers over sons), is glossed over in the film in order to display a socialistic association of producers with an ideal level of solidarity. That they don't literally produce anything, that they are in a service industry (ha!), should not obscure the point. Nor should the fact that the hospital is also their residence. Given the focus of the film, this residential aspect is tantamount to the barracks at a mining site. Furthermore, this runs so deep, it applies to those residents of the hospital who do no work, the patients. The work ethic or labour orientation is so rich in RB, I would go so far as to say that the patients do work. Their job is to die. To die with dignity. I am stretching beyond the literal to the metaphoric, to be sure, but one thing is for certain. The patients have status equal to the health care staff, specifically significant, the doctors. And this is ground zero for the egalitarianism of the film. This is the large leveling. Not that everyone has to die sometime and that it is possible for anyone that death will entail horrible suffering, even medical professionals. That's a leveling of individualism that any liberal can be comfortable with. No, the leveling between the doctors and the patients is class leveling. This is true literally insofar as the doctors come from privilege and the patients from poverty. But it may and I say should be interpreted at a higher level of abstraction. Everything presented in RB carries a lot of meaning and contributes to the message but in my estimation, the defining chapter in the story is the transformation of doctor Yasamoto into the patient of the girl rescued from the whore house. This role reversal is more than some moralistic sermon about walking a mile in the other guy's shoes. And never mind the fabulous dialectics about his illness being her cure. The big news is that they are made into equals. Everything in the film resonates out from and replicates in miniature this leveling.
OK, that's enough of that, I should think. In Part Three of this review, I will discuss  the fight scene,  the flashback scene,  the housecall to a wealthy patient scene, and  just how wonderful the film looks. I am hopeful that I will have exhausted myself by then - Ben.
And Then Dan:
I like your idea that the clinic is, first of all, a socialistic enterprise, in that there is little to distinguish between the various ways that different people with a variety of skills and training provide health services at the clinic, and I'm also down with your suggestion that since they all live in the same place that the work, the clinic is sorta one big hippie commune. I am also certain that the curing of the young doctor by the damaged girl is a key to "unpacking" the film's core message; this passage falls pretty much at film's centre, and is the heart and soul of Kurosawa's film, as it is in these moments that the young doctor's socio-political AND physical cure are guaranteed.
As for the patients job being to die with dignity, that is indeed an interesting notion. Of course the doctor's job is to bear witness to the death, which carries with it the responsibility to remember the life that is lost. It adds a significance and a weight to the patient's passing that a doctor is there to record the memory, but of course the doctors at the clinic at recording much more than simply the memory of these patient's deaths, but also their entire lives. Which is why the stories that they tell of their patients (and which the patients tell of themselves, to these doctors) are also the great levellers. We see that these are people, despite their poverty and suffering, who have lead lives of no small consequence, and they are as worthy of remembrance and commemoration as any of the shoguns that Yas might have ended up cleaning up after.
I want to thank you for your second paragraph and then I want to relate it to your first.
Your observation of the doctors work of bearing witness was entirely neglected by me and your treatment of it supports my thesis, so thank you. Yet, I want now to take your treatment and turn it inside-out too. You are absolutely correct that the doctors validate the lives of their patients by listening to their life stories. Red Beard has dialogue explaining to Yas explicitly that this is in their job description as far as he's concerned. But at the same time, this witness-bearing validates the lives of the doctors themselves. And they need this validation desperately. Why? Because medical science is little more than palliative care. (I've focused on the evidence of this in the film already.) The doctors cannot literally save lives but they can metaphorically save lives as they help people go gentle into that good night.
What the above interpretation shows is that the doctors and the patients need each other. But this mutual need is not merely definition-by-the-opposite, not some purely formal Yin/Yang. It is real mutual recognition, solidarity of equals, leveling. So, the curing of the doctor by the damaged girl is not just the curing of the doctor. It is not just a moment of half-leveling (hence, not really leveling at all) from the perspective of the doctor. It's not just a moralizing "walk in the other guy's shoe" on the part of the upper class. This is Sunday sermon empathy at a church from the right side of the tracks, not social equality. No, the curing of the doctor by the damaged girl is also and maybe more so the undamaging of the girl, the curing of the girl by the girl, her self-empowerment. There is dialogue to support this by the way. She tells Yas that Red Beard told her as much. So I believe it is important not to see the pivotal event in the film simply in terms of a role reversal. In fact, once you enter into the deeper dialectics of the relation, it starts to become impossible to say who is curing whom. He is her floor which becomes his ceiling and around we go. It can't be sorted out - and that's the fucking point! It's a level playing field. Sure sure, it's all about love. And later Red Beard explains to Yas that she will have to learn to spread her love to the whole hippy commune, and of course Tiny Tim is the vehicle for this. But there are politics inside that love.
The liner notes to the DVD quote Kurosawa on RB: "I wanted to make something that my audience would WANT to see, something so magnificent that people would just have to see it." With respect to this, one of the striking qualities of RB is that it truly has something for everyone. More than any other of his films that I have seen, RB provides the widest range of mini-stories and grandest variety of incidents. All of them are integrated into the central narrative with both conceptual relevance and stylistic grace. This granted, it is not always immediately obvious how certain scenes might be required beyond adding interest to the plot or nuance to the characters. In short, is everything in the film really necessary to communicate the thematic content in full? I believe so.
I have interpreted RB in terms of socialistic egalitarianism. I did so by focusing exclusively on the nature of the hospital (and its immediate environs). There are scenes which take us out of this social setting, however, yet I see these as reinforcing my interpretation negatively. That is, the ideal of the hospital is situated in the "real world" with all of its oppressions and I take the scenes that depart from the hospital to be realistic identifications of specific forces that stand in the way of egalitarian social relations. (There is even a scene in the hospital that I approach in this manner.) I don't mean to reduce the meaning of these scenes to my interpretation, by the way. I'm just trying to develop a thesis. What I am at pains to argue is that those scenes which might appear superfluous are actually vital as negations of the model being offered in the form of the hospital. The inclusion of these negations are essential if Kurosawa's vision is to be realistic. In short, these scenes demonstrate that RB is a tale for materialists and not pie-in-the-sky bleeding hearts.
The psychotic female patient attempting to murder Yas: Here is the hospital scene I mentioned parenthetically. What is the point of this? I offer that her psychosis represents the potential of the erotic to become violence that comes between equals in personal relations, to put it mildly. They are equals because at that point in the narrative Yas is on her level insofar as he has not taken on the responsibilities of being a doctor. Indeed, he is getting drunk. Besides, they originate from the same class. The (sexist?) routine of a crazy bitch coming on to a regular fellow in order to destroy him is as old as the hills. But in RB, more is at stake. Nutty sexuality undermines the potential for real friendship. Remember, for much of the scene it is unclear if she really is nuts and dangerous,and just as uncertain whether or not Yas, still resistant to his destiny, will become her renegade ally.
The recollections of the dying patient: This is a film unto itself. Of course, it is all intended to explain why this man was so loved by his community, what motivated him to be a good person in the first place. His is a tale of tragedy. And the forces behind this tragedy are two. The first is the earthquake, as materialist as a force can be. This points to the power of nature to constitute a calamity that rips people apart, in every sense of the term. Shit happens. Accidental disaster is no small challenge to social bonds. But it is the cultural dimension contextualizing the earthquake that signals the undermining of, not just a bond, but a (yes, liberal) partnership of equals; i.e, marriage. I said previously that RB does not provide a critique of patriarchy. I hold to this but at the same time, the custom in 19th Century Japan that arranged to whom a woman "belonged," is under severe scrutiny as this custom leads to the (unintentionally assisted) suicide of the man's wife.
The house call to the rich patient's house: This is a very short scene but it speaks volumes. Here the power of money is attacked outright. The wealthy class is identified as a ''tax" on the resources of the commune and therefore must be "ripped off" in return. That this is essential to the material subsistence of the hospital was set-up at the start when it was explained that the facility is pathetically under-funded by the state. In case the corrupting influence of moneyed power remains unclear to the audience, the message is driven home when Red Beard is questioned by the rich man's henchman. The latter cynically articulates the futility of medicine and on this basis ridicules any rationale for its price. Red Beard does not dispute the point, thus, turning it on its head. Yes, you cannot put a price on caring for the sick - as long as you live and work in an egalitarian society. (Also conveyed by this scene, the existential recognition of medical work as basically palliative care.)
The fight scene: Of all the scenes in RB, this one at first comes off as a throw-away for the action set, gratuitous violence however nifty. We need to tread lightly now because there is something to this but it is also incorrect and we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Unlike other oppressive forces that are either mixed up with otherwise benign or even emancipatory potential, or not, but still indirectly oppressive, violence is, well, violence. The direct, immediate, real thing. Man's inhumanity to man may or may not be convincingly boiled down to violence but either way, when we get to violence we have arrived at the primal challenge to egalitarian politics. It is not gratuitous of Kurosawa to include it front and center, in the most base manner. This, again, is an expression of his materialism, his realism. Fine. Yet, there is something jive about the scene and this bogus quality undermines the scene's inclusion in the film. The fake aspect is, of course, that it is a succession of duels fought and won by our hero. And as always, I use the latter term pejoratively. That Red Beard fights with the surgical precision of, uh-huh, a surgeon, that he fights like a scientist and not an artist, that he is conducting a ruthless military campaign and not aristocratically playing at war - none of this saves the scene from being bullshit. It is bullshit because - one more time - ten guys can kick the crap out of anyone. I will admit that I took tremendous satisfaction from the scene. But it remains rubbish. And I consider it a failure of Kurosawa's vision not to have included a realistic fight scene. I can easily imagine one that supports my egalitarian interpretation of the film. Instead of going it alone, Red Beard and Yas, together, fight it out with the gang, whose numbers are reduced but who still out-number our two. The odds are against our two, and this means that rather than a heroic clean sweep we get a genuine scrap; hell, some phony drama can occur, pretending that the outcome is uncertain. Of course, this is neither here nor there because the good guys win the battle, beaten but not beaten. In other words, instead of Clint Eastwood (Yojimbo?), your basic buddy-comedy fight scene, but played completely seriously. Red Beard and Yas should have limped home with the girl they rescued, brought in a few minor wounds of their own to be licked by the rest of the hospital staff.
Ta-da. I had threatened to speak to the topic of just how wonderful the film looks, the cinematography, the sets, and so on. Count your blessings, I am all tuckered out. The review is over. Ikiru is still number one in my book, but RB is a close second. If Ikiru is coming out of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy - but not Kierkagaard and Kafka, RB is coming out of Balzac, Hugo, and (as said) Dickens -but not Horatio Alger and Disney. You said RB is in the top five. I assume the three others are The Seven Sammys, (That) Rash o' Mine, and...? Ran? Or does Ran come before Rashomon? Or is there a title I have yet to see?
The film certainly is about as full of wide-ranging elements as any Kurosawa. Hell, he even throws a gratuitous samurai showdown into the mix, to see if we're paying attention. I completely concur with you, by the way, that the scene is both extremely emotionally gratifying and intellectually dishonest, particularly given the tenor of what has gone before. But Christ! when Kurosawa pans across the carnage after Mifune has levelled that entire crew, I felt like I was looking at a miniature of the wounded soldiers in Atlanta scene in Gone With the Wind. The sounds of the bones being broken is later matched by the sight of these beaten deadbeats crawling around in the dust with compound fractures. Pretty damned horrifying shit. And while Red Beard gives some lip service later to how he should never have done it, that a doctor's job is to heal, not to hurt, there's no shortage of intellectual dishonesty at work there too given that he was trying to do just that (trying to protect the girl from further harm) and these soon-to-be vanquished foes were preventing him from doing so. He had little alternative--to leave the girl there, alone, would have been an even greater abrogation of his duties as a doctor, no? Still and all, the fact that he was able to clinically and surgically dispatch so many foes without suffering even a bruise is a terrible betrayal of the film's otherwise stellar realism.
The psychotic female patient also plays into some standard figures in Japanese fiction--the creepy mysterious "dark" lady, who makes regular appearances in J-Horror films these days (see The Ring or Pulse or The Grudge for contemporary examples)--but I think she's also there for another reason. I recall that Red Beard and Yas have a discussion about whether her psychosis can be attributed to her horrific upbringing (all the sexual abuse), but Red Beard retorts that many girls have suffered similarly yet they haven't turned into murderers, so this cannot be used as a reason to excuse the woman's behaviour. The whole nurture-nature thing is up for grabs at this point, but Kurosawa seems (rightly, I think) to be abandoning it as quickly as he seizes on it. After all, while it might be interesting to argue how much of each play a part in determining who were are, the truth for these doctors is that such information is not particularly useful. They cannot cure the larger disease in society; they are only able to address the symptoms in individual patients. There are clear limits on the ability of medicine alone to cure what really ails us.
As for the dying patient, I think I've already sorta dealt with that one in the previous missive, as the doctors and others who witness this now give added weight to this man's life; he has been a figure of real importance to these people, and the value off his life is AT LEAST on par with that of any of his so-called social superiors. A figure who might have died in anonymity, like those poor bastards in Thomas Gray's poem, but who will know be commemorated and revered because there were people there to lend dignity to his death and remind us of the significance of his death. He will be no desert flower blooming in isolation.
Then Finally Ben:
The fight scene. You remind me that Red Beard rationalizes it afterwards with Hippocratic guilt and this is lame. I agree. Compare it to the other occasion in the film when he has to explain his "inappropriate" behavior to Yas. I am thinking of his blackmailing of the local magistrate, which he does in order to secure funds for the woman with the three kids. This time, the rationalization is realistic and fits into my socialistic thesis because he tells Yas to remember his "immorality" and use it against him whenever he becomes arrogant. In other words, the pupil should call the teacher on hypocrisy. But even more, the new recruit to the hippy commune should call down Jumping Jack Flash whenever the need arises 'cause - that's right - it's a level playing field.
I'm still not sure what to make of the psycho chick. I tried to fit her into my thesis but she's awkward there. I think it is important, however, that we do encounter her father, who is revealed to be an uncaring outsider, a man who thinks his money will solve his problem to the point of not being a father at all. It points back to the theme of caring itself and the social relations that must be in place if people are going to be able to care for each other, or not.
Yes, you did account for the story-telling of the dying patient. Actually, you at least implicitly went further and accounted for the survivors of the dead as well. These survivors also need to be heard. Take it from me, my mother died of cancer in the Victoria hospice. The staff there had to attend to me and the rest of my family as much as my mom.