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In the early 19th century, hoping to become a court physician, young Dr. Noboru Yasumoto completes his medical training in Nagasaki and returns to the city of Edo. He is dismayed to find himself assigned as an intern at the impoverished public health clinic run by the dedicated Dr. Niide, known as Red Beard. Attempting to get himself discharged, Yasumoto rebels against the clinic rules by drinking heavily, refusing to wear medical attire, and venturing into a cell-like room forbidden to everyone but Red Beard himself. While locked in the room, Yasumoto encounters a deranged young woman, who almost kills him before Red Beard intervenes. Yasumoto is unprepared for his experiences with a dying man and as an assistant at an operation, but gradually he is won over by the older doctor's understanding of the charity patients in the clinic. Red Beard rescues a mistreated 12-year-old girl from a brothel and places her in Yasumoto's care. Working patiently with the youngster, Yasumoto is finally able to overcome her bitterness, and she rewards his efforts by nursing him back to health when he falls ill. As he learns from Red Beard, Yasumoto finds the understanding to forgive his ex-fiancée for marrying another man. Later Yasumoto marries his ex-fiancée's sister, and he finally comprehends Red Beard's conviction that a doctor must fight poverty as well as disease. Resolved to follow in his mentor's footsteps, he rejects an offer to become a shogunate physician in order to remain at the clinic.