As in later works, like Gohatto, the director combines grit (seppuku, burial in sand), glamour (pop stars), and lyricism (the lilacs of Jack's childhood). If the regal Ryûichi inhabits his role with discomfort, Kitano, then best known as a comedian, fits his like a glove. And though Sakamoto's synth-based score sounds like a product of the 1980s, it adds to the mood of the piece.
This two-disc sets offers an essay from critic Chuck Stevens, interviews with Sakamoto and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell to Earth), a profile of van der Post, and two featurettes, including The Ôshima Gang, in which Bowie describes Nagisa's work as "an expression rather than an impression of an idea." In its volatile mix of repression and respect, Merry Christmas plays like a psycho-sexual response to The Bridge on the River Kwai. As producer Jeremy Thomas notes, Ôshima liked to work quickly, and his first English-language feature isn't perfect, but it's certainly powerful. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Also featuring actor-director Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine, Fireworks) in his first dramatic role, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE is a multilayered, brutal, at times erotic tale of culture clash that was one of Oshima's greatest successes.
David Bowie plays a "soldier's soldier" parachuted onto Java during World War II to blow up the usual odds and ends. He surrenders rather than permit a village to be wiped out in reprisal and is sent to a Japanese POW camp, where the prisoners are treated with contempt and brutality. The Commandant, informed that the new prisoner is the epitome of the British Soldier, wishes to test his own ideas about what constitutes the perfect soldier. The ending is something of a surprise, but nontheless riviting. Tom Conti, playing the title character, is unique in that, for the first time in his career, he give a totally focused performance. The Japanese cast is wonderful and gave me a real view into the mindset of the Japanese soldier of that era. WARNING: a lot of plot development is carried out in Japanese. There are no sub-titles and dubbing would run the flow of the film (the central theme is about not understanding another culture, after all), so if you don't like wrestling with a movie, you should give this one a miss. If, on the other hand, you like a movie that demands a little intellectual exercise, here's your film.
As pow's at a camp in occupied Indonesia, Col. John Lawrence (Tom Conti) and Major Jack "Strafer" Celliers (David Bowie) engage their Japanese captors in a test of wills and mores. Conti's Col. Lawrence is an affable but somewhat naive English officer simply trying to make the best of the brutal circumstances inflicted on him and his men. On the other hand, Bowie's Major Celliers is a charismatic but enigmatic figure who engages the Japanese in psychological mind games - to preserve his self respect, but also to protect others and exorcise from his conscience the memory of a betrayal.
The Japanese cannot understand soldiers who would surrender, rather than fight to the death, and treat their prisoners with the brutality and contempt they think the internees deserve. Sergeant of the Guard, Hara Gengo-san (Takeshi) is the embodiment of this mindset, and casually clubs and stomps his way through the prisoners - as well as his own men.
Ryuichi Sakamoto stars as Capt. Yonoi, the new commandant of the camp. Yonoi is a relatively decent man who at first tries to contain the violence of the guards, but finds himself caught between his own humanist tendencies and the old, warrior ethic. Yonoi is alternately fascinated and repulsed by Celliers, (and it is this tension that drives the movie) but tries to understand and accomodate him. Yet, in the end, he too is entrained by the samurai militancy of the soldiers around him.
The movie contains many memorable scenes. In one, an inexplicable and courageous act of kindness to Lawrence and Celliers by the brutal Sgt. Hara gives the film its name.Read more ›
As usual in movies and in life, the most interesting characters are not the most intolerant ones played by David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto or Jack Thompson but those more human impersonated by Takeshi Kitano, the future brilliant director of SONATINE, and by the pragmatic Tom Conti who has the difficult task to be the spokesman of his fellow prisoners.
Although I've appreciated a lot this movie, I consider the David Bowie flashback that explains his final redemptive behaviour as ridiculous. Furthermore, this segment breaks the rythm of a nearly perfect film, if it wasn't for this scene. Too bad.
Please note that I've seen MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE on a zone 2 DVD found at amazon.fr in France. French subtitles (of the english and japanese dialogs), a trailer and filmographies. Sound and images OK.
A movie zone severe hang-ups.