Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
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|Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence|
Original Japanese poster
|Directed by||Nagisa Oshima|
|Produced by||Jeremy Thomas|
|Written by||Nagisa Oshima|
|Story by||Laurens van der Post|
|Music by||Ryuichi Sakamoto|
|Editing by||Tomoyo Oshima|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures (U.S.)|
Palace Pictures (UK)
|Running time||123 minutes|
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Japanese: Senjō no Merī Kurisumasu (戦場のメリークリスマス?, "Merry Christmas on the Battlefield"), also known in many European editions as Furyo (俘虜, Japanese for "prisoner of war")) is a 1983 Japanese film directed by Nagisa Oshima, produced by Jeremy Thomas and starring David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Takeshi Kitano.
It was written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg and based on Laurens van der Post's experiences during World War II as a prisoner of war as depicted in his works The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970). Sakamoto also wrote the score and the vocal theme "Forbidden Colours", featuring David Sylvian, which was a hit single in many territories.
The film was entered into the 1983 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d'Or. Sakamoto's score also won the film a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.
The film deals with the relationships among four men in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War — Major Jack Celliers (Bowie), a rebellious prisoner with a guilty secret from his youth; Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto), the young camp commandant; Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Conti), a British officer who has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese fluently; and Sergeant Hara (Kitano) who is seemingly brutal and yet humane in some ways and with whom Lawrence develops a peculiar friendship.
Just as Celliers is tormented with guilt, Yonoi is haunted with shame. Having been posted to Manchuria previously, he was unable to be in Tokyo with his Army comrades, the "Shining Young Officers" of Japan's February 26 Incident, a 1936 military coup d'état. When the coup fails, the young army officers were executed. Yonoi regrets not being able to share their patriotic sacrifice. Jack Celliers had betrayed his younger brother while the two of them were attending boarding school. Although Celliers confesses this only to Lawrence, Captain Yonoi senses in Celliers a kindred spirit. He wants to replace the current British camp commandant with Celliers as the spokesman for the prisoners.
As Celliers is interned in the camp, Yonoi seems to develop a homoerotic fixation with him, often asking Hara about him, silently visiting him in the small hours when Celliers is confined. However, later on, Yonoi becomes enraged by Celliers' behaviour and has him and Lawrence thrown into the punishment cells under the charge of possessing a wireless. Celliers, who is known by the nickname of "Strafer" Jack (a strafer is a "soldier's soldier"), instigates a small number of rebellious actions, one of which is supplying the men with food after their rations have been suspended for two days for their actions during the seppuku, which Yonoi deems as "spiritually lazy". Yonoi's batman suspects the mental hold that Celliers has on Yonoi so he tries to kill Celliers but fails in the attempt. Celliers manages to escape his cell and rescues Lawrence, only to be thwarted by Yonoi unexpectedly. Yonoi challenges Celliers to single combat saying "If you defeat me, you will be free" but Celliers refuses. Yonoi's batman then commits seppuku in atonement after urging Yonoi to kill Celliers before Celliers can destroy Yonoi.
It is Christmas Eve and Sgt Hara is drinking heavily and orders both Celliers and Lawrence to be brought to him. Hara then advises them that he is playing "Santa Claus" and is ordering their release because a prisoner confesses having the radio. He then calls out in English for the first time "Merry Christmas Lawrence".
Sgt Hara is later reprimanded by Yonoi for exceeding his authority. The whole camp is paraded on Yonoi's order. All prisoners are prompted to form lines outside the barracks, including sick and moribund ones. The climax of the film is reached when Yonoi is ready to kill the POW's commander for not having all the men present for parade. Celliers breaks the rank and walks decisively in Yonoi's direction, between him and the man about to be executed and ends up resolutely kissing him on the cheek with a straight face. This is an unbearable offence to Yonoi's bushido honor code; he reaches out for his katana against Celliers, only to collapse under the conflicting feelings of vindicating himself from the offence suffered in front of his troops and his own feelings for Celliers. Celliers is then attacked and beaten up by the Japanese soldiers.
Captain Yonoi himself is then redeployed and his successor who declares that "he is not as sentimental as Captain Yonoi" immediately has Celliers buried in the ground up to his neck as a means of punishment and then left to die. Captain Yonoi goes to Celliers when there is no one around and cuts a lock of hair. He then pays his respects and leaves, and Celliers dies shortly afterwards.
In 1946, four years later, Lawrence visits Sergeant Hara, who has now been imprisoned by the Allied forces. Hara has learned to speak English whilst in captivity and reveals that he is going to be executed the next day for war crimes, stating that he is not afraid to die, but doesn't understand how his actions were any different from those of any other soldier. Lawrence tells him that Yonoi had given him a lock of Celliers' hair and told him to take it to his village in Japan, where he should place it in a shrine. Hara reminisces about Celliers and Yonoi. It is revealed that Yonoi himself was killed just before the war ended. Hara reminisces about that Christmas Eve and both are very much amused. The two bid each other farewell for the last time and just before Lawrence leaves, Hara calls out again, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence".