Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)

merry christmas mr lawrence poster 1983 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visual: 8/10

Different type of war movie

Takes a bit to understand the nuances of the story

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Studio:  National Film Trustee Company

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  May 11, 1983 (Cannes)/September 2, 1983 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

merry christmas mr lawrence ryuichi sakamoto tom conti

What we have here is a failure to communicate!

It is World War II, and the Japanese are holding soldiers in a prison camp. When Jack Celliers (David Bowie) arrives, his presence begins to change things. Celliers finds himself in a stand-off with the guards and becomes the infatuation of Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto). Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti) tries to keep the peace at the camp with Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), but the tensions are rising and someone may pay the price.

Directed by Nagisa Oshima, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Senjō no Merī Kurisumasu or 戦場のメリークリスマス which translates as Merry Christmas on the Battlefield) is a wartime drama. The film is based on The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970) by Sir Laurens van der Post who was imprisoned by the Japanese in World War II. The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #535).

I hadn’t heard of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and picked it up on a whim since I always found Bowie rather interesting. War movies aren’t my favorite type of film, but like many war films, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence turns into a battle wills that is interesting.

merry christmas mr lawrence david bowie stand off

You know you want me!

The film is rather layered. You have the strange relationship between Celliers and Yonoi begins to tear others down due to the conflict, and you have the tempestuous “friendship” between Hara and Lawrence. Due to the war, characters that might have found common ground are at odds and are programmed to hate each other. The film’s storyline and innuendos aren’t always easy to follow and the film benefits from multiple viewings.

The cast is good. The four main characters are strong with both Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also composed the score) and Takashi Kitano being the men in power. David Bowie plays the guilty Celliers whose role is almost easier because he’s so standoffish as opposed to Tom Conti’s downplayed Mr. Lawrence who is trying to keep the peace and bring everyone home safely while threading the line by working with the Japanese.

merry christmas mr lawrence david bowie death

I hate it when kids bury you at the beach and forget about you…

The movie has kind of a classic appearance to it. Though it was made in the ’80s, it feels in line with other war films like The Bridge on the River Kwai which was made in 1957. It is the timelessness of the period that helps the movie and gives it both perspective while still feeling fresh.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence isn’t my favorite movie, but it is interesting. Bowie did a lot of acting over the years, but I wish he had done more since I do think he was rather interesting and had potential to grow. It also helps that he is just one link in the movie and that the movie is deeper than a “Bowie movie”. If you’ve seen a lot of war movies, check out this movie for a different take on the war.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response