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In 1942 British soldier Jack Celliers comes to a Japanese prison camp. The camp is run by Yonoi, who has a firm belief in discipline, honor and glory. In his view, the allied prisoners are cowards when they chose to surrender instead of committing suicide. One of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence, tries to explain the Japanese way of thinking, but is considered a traitor. Written by
Loosely based on Lauren's van Der Post's trilogy 'The Seed and The Sower', Nagisa Oshima's English language film (1983) is set on the island of Java in 1942 (during World War II).
Written by Paul Mayersberg and the director, this film explores the situation of English prisoners of war held by the Japanese on the remote island of Java, offshore of Indonesia, and their Japanese captors.
In particular, it tells the story of Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti)
a man like Laurens van Der Post - who has a deep understanding of
Japanese culture, but is incarcerated like all the others. A powerful mediator between the English and the Japanese, John Lawrence helps the audience to understand this violent and often perplexing behaviour of their captors.
Captain Yonoi (Ryuchi Sakamoto) shows us the honest, understanding and straightforward face of the educated Japanese officer in these difficult circumstances. Sergeant Gengo Hara (Takeshi Kitano) helps us to understand the rather formal, misguided, traditional non-commissioned officer whose parallel is our own 'Sergeant Major' or 'Drill Sergeant'.
The crisis of cross-cultural understanding is heralded by the arrival of a British soldier who inadvertently conforms to the Japanese ideal of heroism - Major Jack Selliers (David Bowie). In Selliers, even Captain Yonoi, has to sit up and take notice. A very British sense of 'fair play' is somehow paradoxically engendered.
It's not hard to ignore the obvious pop stars, in this great film whose sweep and focus leads us inexorably to confront the painful conflicts of our parents or grandparents, because we cannot help but feel the keen emotions evoked by it.
How hard it is to bear the merciless execution of the violent Sgt Hara, when we truly understand how meekly he accepts it and why.
And what great good fortune that Ryuchi Sakamoto could have written such a haunting musical theme to the movie.. while he was only getting paid for acting !
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