A highly unusual war movie with as many detractors as fans, this English-language feature directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) stars David Bowie as a silent, ethereal POW in a Japanese camp. Protesting-... more »-via his own enigmatic rebellion--the camp's brutal conditions and treatment of prisoners, Bowie's character earns the respect of the camp commandant (Ryuichi Sakamoto). While the two seem locked in an unspoken, spiritual understanding, another prisoner (Tom Conti) engages in a more conventional resistance against a monstrous sergeant (Takeshi). The film has a way of evoking as many questions as certainties, and it is not always easy to understand the internal logic of the characters' actions. But that's generally true of Oshima's movies, in which the power of certain relationships is almost hallucinatory in self-referential intensity. The cast is outstanding, and Bowie is particularly fascinating in his alien way. --Tom Keogh« less
R. Max Totten | San Francisco, Ca United States | 01/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been suckered into a few other DVD releases of this film, so I was skeptical about this one. However in selling my other two copies and taking the money from those sells and buying this one, well need I say this is the last version, but the one I'm completely satisfied with. The extras included filmed memories by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Producer JeremyThomas and Director Nagisa Oshima as well as an 1983 thirty-minute behind the scenes short. The film is beautiful and has been mastered from a new 35MM print and the haunting score by Ryuichi Sakamoto makes this DVD a treasured film for years to come."
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983, Nagisa Oshima)
Sam | FL | 07/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A highly unusual war movie with as many detractors as fans, this English-language feature directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) stars David Bowie as a silent, ethereal POW in a Japanese camp. Protesting--via his own enigmatic rebellion--the camp's brutal conditions and treatment of prisoners, Bowie's character earns the respect of the camp commandant (Ryuichi Sakamoto). While the two seem locked in an unspoken, spiritual understanding, another prisoner (Tom Conti) engages in a more conventional resistance against a monstrous sergeant (Takeshi). The film has a way of evoking as many questions as certainties, and it is not always easy to understand the internal logic of the characters' actions. But that's generally true of Oshima's movies, in which the power of certain relationships is almost hallucinatory in self-referential intensity. The cast is outstanding, and Bowie is particularly fascinating in his alien way."
On the Other Side
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 11/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
As children we are imbued with imagery. From the color of fall leaves to the faded color of your grandmother's favorite sweater, these images become imprinted upon your brain. Living in a visual culture one cannot help that television and movies leave lasting impressions. Back during the early 1980s, a time in which I was enamored with Bugs Bunny, He-Man, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, I watched a number of films with my dad. I can still remember scenes clearly from Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One and Stuart Rosenberg's Brubaker. The scene in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence where David Bowie is buried up to his chin in sand is one of those scenes that remained in my memory for some twenty years before I learned its source.
Set in a Javanese prisoner of war camp, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence mainly concerns man and his contact with the Other. However, who is actually considered the Other in the film? Are the British, Danish, or New Zealand soldiers considered the Other because they are the ones held captive or are the Japanese soldiers, the captors, considered the Other because their actions mystify the Western military men? Within this miasma of confusion stands Col. John Lawrence, a Brit fluent in Japanese and knowledgeable of Japanese culture who finds himself torn between loyalties to his fellow prisoners and relationships with Captain Yonoi, Sakamoto Ryuichi, and Sgt. Hara Gengo, Kitano Takeshi.
As a mediator between both sides, Lawrence tries to keep peace between Yonoi and the head of the prisoners Group Cpt. Hicksley. However, with the violent Hara, who beats both prisoners and his own men mercilessly, peace is tenuous at best.
Things in the camp truly change with the arrival of Maj. Jack Celliers, David Bowie, who Yonoi took a bit of a shine to when the former was on trial. Hoping Celliers can replace the hostile Hicksley, Yonoi looks carefully after the man's welfare, but Celliers has other ideas.
Always one to rock the boat, Oshima's film was the first Japanese war film told for the most part from the Westerner's point of view. Some of the best scenes in the movie were between Lawrence and Hara. While enemies, both men have a begrudging respect for each other. Hara considers Lawrence to be a good soldier and wonders how the lanky man can bare the shame of being a prisoner. Lawrence retorts that he and the other Western soldiers are waiting for the day they can fight again. Shrugging this off, Hara states that he had already given his life to his Emperor and Lawrence returns you are not dead yet. The seen between Hara and Lawrence at the end of the film is truly wonderful.
Beautifully scored by Sakamoto, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a unique work in the annals of Japanese film. Tackling such issues as the Other from both sides, it leaves one wondering if harmony can truly be reached, but with its depictions of friendships that develop out of violence and hate, the film shows that these obstacles can be overcome even if the cost is high. "
Betrayal, regret, and redemption in a POW camp.
R.P. | 12/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This marvelous film, based on my favorite novel "The Seed And The Sower" by Sir Laurence Van Der Post, is light years away from the stereotypical prisoner-of-war film. It is so because of its profound understanding of clashing cultures, the hatreds that drive them, and the love that redeems hostile nations time and time again. David Bowie is often cited as the main character, but in actuality, his is a compelling supporting role. Tom Conti has the best role of his career as Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence, a British officer imprisoned in a camp on Java. Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto scored the film and also plays Captain Yonoi, the aristocratic, Shakespeare-quoting commandant of the camp. These two characters have a strong relationship which, nevertheless, is handicapped by the fact that Lawrence understands the Japanese better than Yonoi understands the British. Yonoi, and Bowie's character, Major Jack Celliers, are wracked with guilt over incidents in their past; Yonoi was unable to be with, and die with, his comrades, the "shining young officers" of Japan's February 1936 military coup. Celliers betrayed his deformed younger brother while attending boarding school. Lawrence is caught in the middle of these two tortured men. He is repelled by the brutality of the Japanese, even as he respects them, and their samurai code of honor. Indeed, wayward Japanese guards are dealt cruel and lightening-fast corporal punishment by their officers; and mistreatment of the prisoners is due to cultural belief, not simple sadism. The beauty of this film lies in the empathy that ostensible enemies feel for one another, and the unexpected kindnesses they show toward one another. But Yonoi's devotion to bushido, and blindness to the British sense of honor, leads to a startling climax. If the final scene doesn't make you weep, then get your heart checked, will you? An amazing film, only slightly marred by a few botched scenes and poor editing. (Oshima rarely shot more than one take.)"
When Cultures Collide.
Maximiliano F Yofre | Buenos Aires, Argentina | 07/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" (1983) is a very special war movie, product of an atypical collaboration. Let see: film director is multi-awarded Nagisa Oshima, his most notable opus are this movie; "Empire of Senses" (1976); "Empire of Passion" ((1978) winner of Cannes Best Director Award and "Taboo" (1999). Two of the main characters are impersonate by actors that are more known as musicians & score composers: Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Bowie. The story is based on South African Laurens Van der Post's novel "The Seed and the Sower" reflecting his actual experiences as POW. From this rich international talents mix emerge the present film.
The story narrates the daily life in a Japanese prison camp where cultures collide and confront. The Japanese assumes British military are despicable because they have surrendered instead of continue fighting until death. The British resent and resist the brutal treatment they receive and scorn their captors as "uncivilized barbarians". Among the two groups strong undercurrents of a different sign circulate. It is a "positive perception" of the enemy's "qualities" even against their own internal logic. Capt. Yonoi empathizes with Maj. Celliers and Col. Lawrence with Sgt. Hara, even if their daily confrontations lead them to more and bleaker ones. This attraction-repulsion phenomenon is shown in other great POW camps films, most notably "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957).
David Bowie delivers a very good acting piece, his best IMHO and Ryuichi Sakamoto is very convincing in his characterization of the troubled samurai.
This is an interesting film, which cast a new light over these difficult relationships. If you are interested in war movies you can't miss this one! Reviewed by Max Yofre. "