Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence was the first English-language project of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima (Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses). In tune with his previous filmic essays on racism and brutality, Merry Christmas concentrates on a war of wills between rebellious POW David Bowie and camp commandant Ryuichi Sakomoto. Assuming that his other prisoners' unwillingness to protest their cruel treatment is a sign of weakness, Sakomoto is most impressed by Bowie's enigmatic defiance. While Bowie and Sakomoto seem to be operating on a high spiritual and intellectual plane, bilingual prisoner Tom Conti (the "Mr. Lawrence" of the title) engages in a more standard adversarial relationship with sadistic sergeant Takeshi Kitano. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
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I have seen this movie several times and have purchased a copy. It is a fascinating study in POW treatment and psychology, also what drives certain psychosexual and sadistic behaviors. David Bowie is wonderful, he lends a quiet dignity to this movie. He proved with this film that he is a good actor with presence on screen, as well as a charismatic singer.
This movie is absolutely unbelievable. The Cannes press called it the "gay River Kwai" and so it is. Though based on a novel/memoir by a British prisoner, Oshima's film is thoroughly Japanese, quiet, beautiful and completely thought out.
Best of all is the casting: David Bowie! looking like a Greek God, an object of lust/love/obsession/who knows what? by the camp commandant, played by the Japanese David Bowie, ergo, just as gorgeous.
When these two confront one another and their eyes meet, the earth moves. Quite a movie.