Thursday 14 August 2008

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

Directed by Japanese auteur Nagisa Oshima and released in 1983 , Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, also known as Furyo, was a Second World War Drama set in a Japanese POW camp. Written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg, the film was based on Laurens van der Post's novels The Seed and the Sower and The Night of the New Moon.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence stars superstar musicians David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto playing captive Jack Celliers and captor Captain Yonoi respectively. There's some fine support from Tom Conti as the titular Lawrence and the multi-talented actor/writer/director/musician "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as Sergeant Hara - who also played the menacing Kitano in the awesome Battle Royale.

The film eschews the usual POW movie cliches and concentrates on the relationships between the four main characters. The taboo subject of homosexuality rears its head throughout the story with Captain Yonoi falling for Celliers. While bleached blonde Bowie looks suitably stunning which may account for Yonoi's feelings, how none of the commandant's colleagues fail to notice that he sports more makeup than the average Geisha is beyond me. Bowie also pushes the bounds of credibility when he has to play a schoolboy version of his adult self during a bizarre flashback sequence.

Bowie has made no secret of his thespian tendencies, though as a life long fan of the man, I've always felt that Bowie should stick to singing. That said, he puts in a pretty convincing performance in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, that is only eclipsed by his superior star turn in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

As well as playing the decidedly camp commandant, multi-instrumentalist and former Yellow Magic Orchestra frontman, Ryuichi Sakamoto contributes a moving and memorable electronic score to Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The well known title theme available in instrumental form and as a vocal version (Forbidden Colours) warbled by former Japan frontman David Sylvian, regularly turns up on cheesy Chillout compliations.

Elsewhere, there are some haunting cues such as Germination and Last Regrets that are only let down by the rather twee Ride, Ride, Ride which accompanies a mawkishly sentimental sequence featuring Cellier's younger brother but that's what the 'skip' button is for. To my ears you can hear Sakamoto's influence in the works of fellow Nipponese musician Joe Hisaishi, though I'll leave you to form your own conclusions on this interesting little soundtrack, that at times is as delicate as a lotus blossom and sharp as a samurai sword, so give it a spin.

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