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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
The Colonel John Lawrence character (played by Tom Conti) shares the same surname as T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O'Toole) in another British war film Lawrence of Arabia (1962). In both films, the surname Lawrence appears in both movies' titles. However, it is the character of Jack Celliers (David Bowie) in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) that is similar to T.E. Lawrence according to Nick Nobel of the Austin Film Society. Both characters have blonde hair, are thin, have a slight lisp and are conflicted about war and other men. Moreover, both these pictures are notable in that they both have all male casts featuring no women. 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 »
I first saw this on IFC one night and was enthralled by it. Apparently there are two versions of the film, one with english subtitles and one without. I saw the version without the subtitles. See the film like this put you in the position of the prisoners, not understanding what is being said around you, and having to rely on translators, who in a prison camp were few. The film starts off with Japanese icon Takeshi Kitano walking into a hut and waking up Col. Lawrence (played by Tom Conti). Lawrence's superior protests this and Sgt. Hara (Kitano) yells something to him in Japanese. While walking out of the hut The superior (don't recall his name but he was played by Jack Thompson) orders another soldier to follow him, Hara protests and uses the scabbard of his sword and hits him in the eye, Hara walks out and Thompson yells "B**tards!" (or something similar).
We then see Lawrence following Hara and then Ryuichi Sakamoto's beautiful, eerie music starts off the opening credits. I won't dive any deeper into the plot, as one should witness it for themselves. The film shows us how the prisoners and the guards are not all that different, they both view themselves as being right, when at one point in the film some one says no one is right in war. The film also shows us the physical and the mental abuse the prisoners had to live with day in and day out.
Besides dealing with the war it also shows how man deals with events from the past as far as ones childhood, But in this film it actually works, not like in countless others, and you do feel attached to the characters.
A lot has been said about David Bowie's performance as Major. Jack Celliers, who despite the title of the film is the lead character and does an excellent job portraying a burnt out commando with a past he is afraid to face.
Shortly after seeing the unsubbed version, I saw the subbed version. Which is good in its own right, but I feel the film doesn't have the same impact if you know what is going to happen at every corner, now about half of the film is in Japanese for those with patience it pays off. By not knowing whats going on it puts you in the position of the prisoners themselves.
The film is a beautiful, tragic look at the atrocities man commits to himself. I encourage film and WW II buffs looking for something different to give it a chance. Another unseen by many gem directed by Nagisa Oshima. ****/****
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