Shohei Imamura's DR. AKAGI
In the closing days of World War II, family doctor Akagi runs (literally) from patient to patient in a small Japanese seaside village and discovers an alarming increase in hepatitis among his increasingly war-weary patients. He seeks a cure but the government is more interested in preparing for The Final Battle as the war draws inevitably to a close. He enlists the support of a diverse collection of friends including a morphine addicted surgeon, a hedonistic monk, and a young recovering prostitute who inevitably falls in love with him.
Akagi is not the moral center that Red Beard is. He is a flawed human, not open with his emotions, who often resists the position of authority that is inevitably thrust upon him by his desperate patients and friends. But he is devoted to his work and tirelessly seeks a cure for hepatitis even when it puts him in jeopardy.
The events and people on display here at times border on the absurd and quirky. At other times we see pathos and depravity. But there is an honesty about even the strangest of behaviors that makes this an unusual film by any standard. The openness about sexuality may put some off, for example; I do not know if this is characteristic of this director, unique to this film — or true to the portrayal of “Japanese society” at the time. But it all serves to frame the actions of Dr. Akagi as he runs from patient to patient, (nearly) all the time seeking to help both the high and the low.
I was not impressed with the quality of the image displayed on this film. Partly this is due to rather uninspired cinematography. There doesn’t seem anything special to me about the framing, lighting, or editing, even though opportunities for gorgeous images abound in the village where this takes place.
The DVD itself is also disappointing. The only “extras” are a theatrical trailer and a few production still photographs, minus any commentary. For such a recent film this is a disappointment.
The subtitling is also not as good as it could be. The conversations are critical in this film and the viewer is sometimes left puzzled about the events on the screen as they may have been revealed in the Japanese soundtrack but have been lost due to their subtlety in the English subtitle translation. Simple explanations of time and place would have been helpful. Plus, many times the subtitles are displayed white on white making them fiendishly difficult to read from across the room. Other films have solved this problem by displaying subtitles in yellow that would have helped matters here.