MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE
DIRECTOR: NAGISA OSHIMA
COUNTRY: ENGLAND/JAPAN 1982
CINEMATOGRAPHY: TOICHIRO NARUSHIMA
MUSIC: RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
BASED ON: Sir Laurens Van Der Port's "The Seed and The Sower"
CAST: David Bowie (Jack Celliars), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Capt Yanoi), Takeshi (Sergeant Hara), Tom Conti (Lawrence ), Jack Thompson
SUPER FEATURES: Great film about the WILL of the winner.. or loser.
There are many ways to create an anti war film. Some dwell on the violence. Some dwell on my cause, or your cause, and justify it. And some, stand as truly great works that do not try to prove anything except that we are fickle human beings convinced that we are right at every turn.
Nagisa Oshima, went a step further. He went so far as to state that much of this stuff is a battle of inner wills, if not an egotistical desire which man has for physical control, even sexual. The point is made that even at the worst of times, the animal in us will still come out, be it in fighting, or in anything else.
The place is Java, in 1942. And the Japanese maintain a prisoner camp for a few soldiers. Most of them seem to have been commanders
rather than just common field soldiers. The presumption is that these camps were set up to try and gain valuable information that might lead the Japanese into places where they could attack the enemy. It might have worked in many cases, but in this particular story it doesn't. Be it a staunch English major, or the better meaning and mannered John Lawrence, who had been in Japan prior to the war.
In between the battles of wills, the commanders engage in various incidents with their prisoners, and they never seem to get the edge they want. This forces the commander Yonoi and sergeant Hara to have a better respect for their prisoners, but it never seems to change into anything else.
There are moments in this film that are very well written, and have been specially well directed into film, perhaps because it is the famous writer that directed the film. And the continuity of the piece is rather interesting, with flashbacks that are immediately seen as unusual, but an indication that the characters are here to take a stand, and one of power and inner force at that. The young English soldier whose background seems centered in various forms of betrayal (so he calls it) regarding his younger brother, ends up clearing up why he joined the army in the first place. And he finally commits the ultimate insult that gets him buried, as we finally see why it is that he did what he did. For once he has
not betrayed anybody, but by his actions helped save, or buy time, for his fellow prisoners.
Eventually the tables turn and the Japanese commander is visited by Mr. Lawrence, who understands the spoils of war better than anyone.
"We are victims of men who feel they are right, and the truth really is that no one is right, of course". The commander is to be executed
the next morning.
Very good in this film are both Tom Conti and David Bowie, in what is an excellent script, very well directed and thought about. The film
defines color only in certain times and moments. And lush it is. The rest of the time it is basically bland, and only shows the two colors of the camp.
With music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who also plays the Commander Yanoi, this film pulsates with a few musical tones, that just bloom into
a musical moment. A rare, and well designed style for the film.
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