Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence Review

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In a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Java in 1942, an English captive strikes up a strange relationship with the commandant.


Highly regarded on release, Nagisa Oshima's complex drama is a strange mixture of the memorable and the flawed. Oshima indulges his usual obsessions of sexual jealousy and repression, as a Brit soldier (David Bowie) enters a Japanese POW camp and becomes a lust object for Camp Commandant Yanoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto, who provides a terrific score).

Character motivations are occasionally unfocused and, while the plot dynamics spin on culture conflicts and contrasts, there's also an uneasy clash of acting styles, with the nuanced naturalism of the Brits (Tom Conti as a Japanese-speaking liaison officer stands out) jarring with the heated histrionics of the Asians.

This goes interesting places most POW dramas won't dare, Oshima's spare style impresses, and keep 'em peeled for an early role for Takeshi Kitano as a sadistic sergeant.

David Bowie, once again displaying acting skills which remind us what a great singer he is, plays enigmatic POW Major Celliers who forges a strange, destructive relationship with a Japanese prison camp commander (Ryuichi Sakamoto). As an exploration of cultural discord, Nagisa Oshima's film is pretty thin stuff, despite its reputation. Bowie is a potent irritant, but Tom Conti is solid in support and Sakamoto's mesmerising score sparkles anew.