MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE: DVD
In the Japanese POW camp at Java in late 1942, a war of wills (and unspoken erotic attraction) develops between rebellious British prisoner Major Jack 'Strafer' Celliers (David Bowie) and the commandant, Capt. Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto), who admires Celliers' defiant stand. Yonoi, steeped in ancient Japanese tradition and something of an aesthete, is drawn to Celliers in a profound way, and one that causes him great internal conflict. Meanwhile, bi-lingual Col. John Lawrence (Tom Conti) is engaged in a see-sawing relationship with sergeant Gengo Hara (Takeshi Kitano), who is a prisoner of his own culture. There is one brief evening's respite in the savage environment, though, at Christmas.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This film and its soundtrack has haunted me since I first saw it on its cinema release - understandably. Ryuichi Sakamoto's score, especially the theme, insinuates itself into the subconscious with its effectively simple but penetrating melodic phrase, so beautifully orchestrated. And the film's mood is a mixture of brutality, quest for understanding and suppressed emotions, which makes it a rather unusual prisoner of war drama.
David Bowie is outstanding as the defiant British prisoner whose erotic appeal undoes the Japanese commandant, played by Sakamoto, who was at the height of his fame as a musical icon in Japan. His acting is a tad hammy even by Japanese traditions, which conflict rather badly with the British (and in Jack Thompson's case Australian) acting traditions. (In the interview on the DVD, he says he fainted when he first saw the film; "I couldn't belive how bad my acting was...") But Tom Conti's character as the trans-cultural warrior who understands the Japanese even though he can't abide their brutal war culture, pivots the film and provides a softening tone. His humanity lies like a blanket over the terrible realities of a Japanese POW camp.
The adaptation from the novel seems effective (I haven't read the book) in that it is neither episodic nor crammed with detail that might have hindered the film's dynamics. In some ways it's a chamber version of a war drama, focusing on a few characters and their journey. It ends on a powerfully melancholy note, which manages to sum up in a single moment all the emotional and psychological messages about the human condition.
Trivia buffs may like to note that New Zealander Lee Tamahori - who went on to direct - was 1st AD on this film, which is explained by the fact that much of the film was shot in New Zealand.
For deeper insights and insider views, there are three featurettes, including specially recorded new interviews with producer Jeremy Thomas and actor/composer Sakamoto. Both are fascinating. Sakamoto, for example, talks about how David Bowie seemed like a regular guy during the shoot, but when they went to Cannes for the film's festival premiere, "he behaved like a superstar ...he has many facets...I admire him for that; I cannot do that." Hmmm.
Published: May 8, 2008
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MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE: DVD (M)
CAST: David Bowie, Takeshi Kitano, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Alistair Browning, Yuya Uchida, Hideo Murota
PRODUCER: Jeremy Thomas
DIRECTOR: Nagisa Oshima
SCRIPT: Nagisa Oshima with Paul Mayesberg (novel The Seed and The Sower by Sir Laurens van der Post)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Toichiro Narushima
EDITOR: Tomoyo Oshima
MUSIC: Ryuichi Sakamoto
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jusho Toda
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
PRESENTATION: 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced); DD 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES: The Making of (30 mins); Jeremy Thomas interview; Ryuichi Sakamoto interview; excerpt of documentary on Takeshi Kitano's career
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
DVD RELEASE: April 1, 2008