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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
Both characters, Lawrence and Celliers, are based on the author Laurens Van der Post who spoke Japanese and was forced to surrender during a Special Forces mission in Java. Van der Post even used the English version of his given name for one character's family name. See more »
In the final scene in the prison cell, the cross belt of Lt Col Lawrence's Sam Browne is fitted back to front. See more »
Do not mistake this masterpiece for a Capra Christmas movie. It is a war film without action (but with atrocities) that opens your eyes and is incredibly versatile and therefore applicable to any war that knows a winner and a loser.
The story is completely about perspectives and motives: power-madness and despair. Some might find MCML hard to stomach while watching, some afterwards. But I say you have to watch it through to appreciate the concepts fully. Moreover, I say you shouldn't vote it before you've seen all of it; that way the rating wouldn't be as low as 6.9. MCML is one of those films that surpass movies like 'Platoon' (Stone, 1986) on any level. Added to all that, it's also beautifully shot by cinematographer Toichiro Naroshima (Double Suicide).
One of the best scores in history of cinema by Ryuichi Sakamoto (also 'Wild Palms' and 'Sheltering Sky'), who not only provides it with his strokes of musical genius, but also plays an important role: the androgynous and curious captain in contrast to the virility of Takeshi Kitano (dir and acted Violent Cop, Brother, Hana Bi) the self-confident and straight-forward sergeant. If you've seen any of Kitano's movies, his character in MCML will gain from that. I guess director Nagisa Oshima (Naked Youth, Gohatto) likes to play with feminine and masculine characters. David Bowie fits in brilliantly from that perspective. His character is the most complex and worked out the deepest. My opinion is that this is his best and most intriguing role so far ('the Man who fell to earth' came close). Conti ('If we'll do it, he'll do it') plays a key figure between the Japanese and the POW.
On which side to lose a war? When to intimidate and when to be intimidated?
Which side are you on anyway? 'There are times victory is very hard to take' - Colonel John Lawrence. Not without reason sergeant Gengo Hara says 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' not: 'Merry Christmas Colonel Lawrence'. Are you intimidated by an initiation? Or still not when you're POW and the only free part of your body is your head? These are questions the film raises. Unfortunately I can't compare the film to the book, because I haven't read it. MCML is immensely powerful, and really underrated. 10/10
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