Remember when ”ER” delivered keen social critiques wrapped in satisfying drama? If you miss that medicine, you need a dose of director Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard, a three-hour soap opera about a 19th-century Japanese clinic. We take the place’s initial pulse through the eyes of Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama), an uptight young doctor who arrives thinking he’s there to observe but discovers he’s assigned as an intern indefinitely. He bristles at his seemingly brusque superior (Toshiro Mifune), whose nickname gives the movie its title and whose regulations appear harsh and arbitrary. But as Yasumoto learns the heartbreaking travails behind his penniless patients’ ailments, he begins to appreciate his boss’ strength and kindness (plus, the man can kick ass like a samurai M.D.).
The movie’s artistry isn’t news, but its restored audio-visual health is. Scrubbed clean of myriad nicks, transferred in anamorphic wide-screen (the flattened, telephoto lens compositions look more painterly than ever), remixed for stereo, and tricked out with a nourishing if pedantic commentary by scholar Stephen Prince, ”Red Beard” once again has the hold-me sheen of a newborn.