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Ethical reflections on the thoughts and lives of Kurosawa's doctors
  1. Atsushi Asai1,
  2. Sakiko Maki2,
  3. Yasuhiro Kadooka2
  1. 1Department of Bioethics, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Medical Science, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan
  2. 2Department of Bioethics, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Life Science, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan
  1. Correspondence to Professor Atsushi Asai, Department of Bioethics, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Medical Science, 1-1-1 Honjo, Kumamoto 860-8556, Japan; aasai{at}


The year 2010 marked the centenary of the birth of Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998), 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.

  • Doctor
  • film
  • Akira Kurosawa
  • paternalism
  • professional life
  • reason
  • Japan
  • cross-cultural studies
  • medical anthropology
  • nurse

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.