Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

Year: 1983
Production Co: National FIlm Trustee Company
Director: Nagisa Ooshima
Writer: Paul Mayersberg
Cast: Tom Conti, Ryuchi Sakamoto, David Bowie, Takeshia Kitano, Jack Thompson

Set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1940s Indonesia, this film is a chamber piece about several characters (four in particular) and how they interact and fit together.

There\'s the Lawrence of the title (Tom Conti), a British prisoner and erstwhile interpreter and facilitator for the rest of the prisoners who\'s trying to maintain good relations with the fearsome senior guard Hara (Takeshi Kitano) and the camp commander Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto, who also composed the soundtrack and iconic theme).

Lawrence almost seems to be friends with Hara, except that the latter is given to dole out sudden and barely-warranted beatings with his bamboo staff, including to Lawrence himself. We see their dynamic as the film opens when a Dutch prisoner is dragged into the boiling sunshine accused of carnal relations with a Korean guard, the kind of perversion that warrants the death penalty for all involved. But while Hara wants heads to roll, Lawrence desperately tries to make the case for the terrified man and save his life.

But the bigger task is Celliers (David Bowie), a rebellious commando captured nearby, given a show trial in a kangaroo court and sent to Lawrence\'s prison camp. The effect he has on their Japanese captors is weird to say the least, with Yonoi in particular seeming to believe him to have some sort of magic. Later we learn about a dark secret in Celliers background as a youth in South Africa that apparently tells us something about him, but whatever it was, I missed it.

In fact I went through most of the movie like that. For a story about how four men relate under extraordinary circumstances, I never got a handle on exactly what the relationships were and what the main quartet really thought of each other.

And in the absence of any other real action, most of it went over my head. It\'s only in reading about it since I can see that it\'s about people trying to bridge gaps between cultures. But to come to the movie cold doesn\'t even give you enough of a sense of that.

I didn\'t know who anyone was, what they really thought about everyone else, what their real intentions or motivations were, and ended up pretty bored throughout as a result.

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