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Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (The Criterion Collection)

4.7 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In this captivating, exhilaratingly skewed World War II drama from Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses, Empire of Passion), David Bowie (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Basquiat) regally embodies the character Celliers, a high-ranking British officer interned by the Japanese as a POW. Music star Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also composed this film’s hypnotic score) plays the camp commander, who becomes obsessed with the mysterious blond major, while Tom Conti (The Duellists; Reuben, Reuben) is British lieutenant colonel Mr. Lawrence, who tries to bridge the emotional and language divides between his captors and fellow prisoners. Also featuring actor-director Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine, Fireworks) in his first dramatic role, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE is a multilayered, brutal, at times erotic tale of culture clash that was one of Oshima’s greatest successes.

Nagisa Ôshima turned to Sir Laurens van der Post's semiautobiographical The Seed and the Sower for this fascinating prisoner-of-war saga. It's 1942 in Java, and the captors favor Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) for his honorable nature and facility with languages. New arrival Jack Celliers (David Bowie), on the other hand, has no intention of playing by the rules. Captain Yonoi (Oscar-winning composer Ryûichi Sakamoto, The Last Emperor) finds himself drawn to the blond major, while the brutal Sergeant Hara (filmmaker Takeshi Kitano in his dramatic debut) treats him like any other captive (if anything, Hara prefers him to Jack Thompson's combative commander). When Lawrence and Celliers disturb Yonoi's sense of order, he decides to punish them both--guilty or not--but Celliers receives the brunt of his anger, frustration, and thwarted desire (a point on which Ôshima remains ambiguous).

As in later works, like Gohatto, the director combines grit (seppuku, burial in sand), glamour (pop stars), and lyricism (the lilacs of Jack's childhood). If the regal Ryûichi inhabits his role with discomfort, Kitano, then best known as a comedian, fits his like a glove. And though Sakamoto's synth-based score sounds like a product of the 1980s, it adds to the mood of the piece.

This two-disc sets offers an essay from critic Chuck Stevens, interviews with Sakamoto and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell to Earth), a profile of van der Post, and two featurettes, including The Ôshima Gang, in which Bowie describes Nagisa's work as "an expression rather than an impression of an idea." In its volatile mix of repression and respect, Merry Christmas plays like a psycho-sexual response to The Bridge on the River Kwai. As producer Jeremy Thomas notes, Ôshima liked to work quickly, and his first English-language feature isn't perfect, but it's certainly powerful. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition master
  • The Oshima Gang, an original making-of featurette
  • New interviews w/ Jeremy Thomas, Paul Mayersberg, Tom Conti, & Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Hasten Slowly, an hour-long documentary about Laurens van der Post
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film writer Chuck Stephens

  • Product Details

    • Actors: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Jack Thompson
    • Directors: Nagisa Oshima
    • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
    • Language: English
    • Dubbed: Japanese
    • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
    • Number of discs: 2
    • Rated:
    • Studio: Criterion Collection
    • DVD Release Date: September 28, 2010
    • Run Time: 124 minutes
    • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
    • ASIN: B003UM8T3A
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,244 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
    • Learn more about "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

    Customer Reviews

    Top Customer Reviews

    Format: DVD
    This marvelous film, based on my favorite novel "The Seed And The Sower" by Sir Laurence Van Der Post, is light years away from the stereotypical prisoner-of-war film. It is so because of its profound understanding of clashing cultures, the hatreds that drive them, and the love that redeems hostile nations time and time again. David Bowie is often cited as the main character, but in actuality, his is a compelling supporting role. Tom Conti has the best role of his career as Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence, a British officer imprisoned in a camp on Java. Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto scored the film and also plays Captain Yonoi, the aristocratic, Shakespeare-quoting commandant of the camp. These two characters have a strong relationship which, nevertheless, is handicapped by the fact that Lawrence understands the Japanese better than Yonoi understands the British. Yonoi, and Bowie's character, Major Jack Celliers, are wracked with guilt over incidents in their past; Yonoi was unable to be with, and die with, his comrades, the "shining young officers" of Japan's February 1936 military coup. Celliers betrayed his deformed younger brother while attending boarding school. Lawrence is caught in the middle of these two tortured men. He is repelled by the brutality of the Japanese, even as he respects them, and their samurai code of honor. Indeed, wayward Japanese guards are dealt cruel and lightening-fast corporal punishment by their officers; and mistreatment of the prisoners is due to cultural belief, not simple sadism. The beauty of this film lies in the empathy that ostensible enemies feel for one another, and the unexpected kindnesses they show toward one another. But Yonoi's devotion to bushido, and blindness to the British sense of honor, leads to a startling climax.Read more ›
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    Format: Blu-ray
    He is known as one of Japan's most controversial but also highly respected director, his name is Nagisa Oshima, a filmmaker who shocked Japan with his films in the '60s and achieved notoriety with his unsimulated sex film "In the Realm of Senses" and followed up with another controversial film with "Empire of Passion" (1978).

    One of the founders of the Japanese New Wave, Oshima was known for taking on Japanese taboos and creating films against the status quo and in 1983, Nagisa Oshima, now residing in France, went to work on his film "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence", a historical war film loosely based on the novel "The Seed and The Sower" by Laurens Van der Post and Laurens' experience as British soldier who surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 and was a prisoner of war for several years and saw how soldiers were treated by the Japanese but how he was able to stay alive due to his ability to speak Japanese.

    But Nagase Oshima has always had a different perspective towards Japanese culture and for Nagashima, this was a chance to explore men's attitudes in POW camp but to also explore perspectives of men from two different worlds and the consequences of war. Because "The Bridge on the River Kwai" was released in 1957 and dealt with British prisoners of war, both Oshima and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg ("The Man Who Fell to Earth", "Eureka", "The Last Samurai") wanted to make things different with this film and other POW war films. "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" would eventually be nominated for a Golden Palm at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for six Japanese Academy Awards and also a winner of a BAFTA Award for "Best Score". And now "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" has been given the Criterion Collection treatment and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD.
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    Format: DVD
    A highly unusual war movie with as many detractors as fans, this English-language feature directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) stars David Bowie as a silent, ethereal POW in a Japanese camp. Protesting--via his own enigmatic rebellion--the camp's brutal conditions and treatment of prisoners, Bowie's character earns the respect of the camp commandant (Ryuichi Sakamoto). While the two seem locked in an unspoken, spiritual understanding, another prisoner (Tom Conti) engages in a more conventional resistance against a monstrous sergeant (Takeshi). The film has a way of evoking as many questions as certainties, and it is not always easy to understand the internal logic of the characters' actions. But that's generally true of Oshima's movies, in which the power of certain relationships is almost hallucinatory in self-referential intensity. The cast is outstanding, and Bowie is particularly fascinating in his alien way.
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    Format: DVD
    I've been suckered into a few other DVD releases of this film, so I was skeptical about this one. However in selling my other two copies and taking the money from those sells and buying this one, well need I say this is the last version, but the one I'm completely satisfied with. The extras included filmed memories by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Producer JeremyThomas and Director Nagisa Oshima as well as an 1983 thirty-minute behind the scenes short. The film is beautiful and has been mastered from a new 35MM print and the haunting score by Ryuichi Sakamoto makes this DVD a treasured film for years to come.
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