Red Beard is a Victorian novel. That's what it feels like. It has the amplitude, the digressions, the leisurely pace, the heart-wringing stuff about orphan children, the melodrama, the moralising.
Be kind to one another. That's what it's all about. If Dickens had been Japanese he'd have come up with something like this.
It's a folie de grandeur. K built a whole town for it. The town had streets the camera never ventured down, rooms it never entered. After Red Beard the Japanese film industry went into crisis (not, I think K's fault) and K was out in the wilderness for a decade.
It was the most expensive- and the longest- Japanese film ever made; and yet the scale is domestic. There are no armies, no natural disasters (barring one modest earthquake.) The money all went on texture, the making of an unspectacular but lovingly detailed and wholey convincing ambient world.
It was the last film K made with Mifune.
I love it. It asks to be loved.
And when one of the cooks broke a radish over the brothel-keeper's head I laughed out loud. Not just because it was funny, but because our side was winning.
P.S. this entry has also been posted at akira_kurosawa