Arrow Academy’s latest release gives Nagisa Ōshima’s classic POW film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence the remaster treatment, bringing Ōshima’s strange meditation on men of war to new vivid life. His first film not entirely in Japanese, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence boasts a cast containing musicians David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also composed the film’s score), Tom Conti and Takeshi Kitano, all of whom are on fine form in this disarmingly moving wartime drama.
Taking place in a prisoner of war camp in Java, Indonesia during 1942, the film primarily focuses on the relationship between four men in the camp. There is the fragile balance of understanding between Sargeant Hana (Takeshi Kitano) and Japanese-fleunt British Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti), and the new arrival of British Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) stirs curiosity in the more traditional camp commander Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto).
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is unlike any other POW movie. Based on Sir Laurens van der Post’s autobiographical short stories based on his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, this is not a film about British soldiers planning an escape, or one that offers much in the way of a grand overcoming of the odds; it is not a tale of victory. Instead, it is a glacially paced, yet soothingly engrossing depiction of men of war thrust together as captor and captive. Yes, there are moments of disturbing torture, but this is more about the weird tensions that forge when men from both sides begin to try to understand each other.
Full review over at VultureHound, originally published June 10th 2020.