Ethical reflections on the thoughts and lives of Kurosawa's doctors

Atsushi Asai, Sakiko Maki, Yasuhiro Kadooka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The year 2010 marked the centenary of the birth of Akira Kurosawa (1910e1998), whose works have been reassessed favourably in the last couple of years in Japan. During his lifetime, Kurosawa directed and produced three films whose chief characters are medical doctors: Drunken Angel (1948), The Quiet Duel (1949) and Red Beard (1965). This paper discusses these three films and examines the thoughts and lives of the three protagonists from the perspective of modern medical ethics. The films depict contemporary ethical and social problems, and deal with paternalism, a healthy professional life and the proper place for human reason in medicine, all of which still give rise to debate in modern medical settings. They are very impressive in their portrayal of extreme paternalism, excessively professional lives and disproportionate reliance on rationality. The doctors are role models in certain situations and are examples of how not to behave in other situations. On the one hand, they are devoted to helping their patients, with their self-sacrifice firmly based on humanity and medical ethics. On the other hand, they perform unwelcome favours and are unhealthy role models who might harm others through narrow-minded attitudes about human beings, a fixed view of life and inflexible ideas about medicine. In this sense, they can be regarded as a rather mixed blessing. These films provide us with an opportunity to simultaneously recognise the importance of modern ethical principles and the significance of 'old' ethical values.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-43
Number of pages6
JournalMedical Humanities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jun 1
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Philosophy


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