Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence is another of those major dramas which was released when I was far too young to *get* them, and just haven’t got round to seeing ever since, and so come to them afresh when they eventually come to Blu-ray in Special Edition form.
However, I was aware of the haunting theme from Ryuichi Sakamoto which is also played over the main menu.
Taking place in Java, 1942, there’s already an issue to resolve in the POW camp, as Kanemoto (Johnny Ohkura) broke into a white Dutch male prisoner De Jong’s (Alistair Browning) cell and tried to assault him, with Sgt Hara (Takeshi Kitano – Battle Royale) tries fruitlessly to keep it from the overly strict Captain Yanoi (composer Ryuichi Sakamoto), and insists Kanemoto commits hara-kiri, whilst getting Lt Cpl Lawrence (Tom Conti) to observe.
Meanwhile, up on trial is surly Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie – The Man Who Fell To Earth), from the British Army, accused ot parachuting into Banten with four other men, waging guerilla warfare, and attacking a Japanese transport unit plus more. The death penalty has been recommended, he pleads plead not guilty, but the key thing is that while he wants a solicitor to defend him, he’s not in a place where those in charge care about justice whatsoever.
At one point, when he says he arrived on the orders of the Supreme Commander of Her Majesty’s British forces in India, he’s asked why wasn’t he under the commander in Java? He replies, “You know I came to Java in August. You know that the commander in Java was captured in March“, yet “in March” is not part of what was originally filmed and was dubbed in post-production. Odd that they just didn’t do a cutaway to elsewhere in the court.
The pair meet soon after. Lawrence is a go-between between the Japanese and the English-speaking prisoners, and is tasked with making a very sick Celliers better again, but it’s not only about their relationship, but also with the two main men in charge, Yonoi and Hara, partly with the intricate relationships between Lawrence and Hara, and Celliers and Yonoi, but also between Lawrence and Celliers.
Overall, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence does drag a bit, but both Bowie and Conti play superb parts in this and bounce off each other well.
However, as I know things change over time, but there are a surprising number of Japanese guards who are complete morons, thinking it’s just fine to top yourself via the method of hari-kiri, just because they’ve let a prisoner temporarily slip their grasp.
Also, it’s weird to see Bowie in a flashback with his younger brother, and Bowie is playing himself at 18 (below), even though he was 36-37 at the time. Still, you get the idea of what they’re trying to accomplish – and Bowie never looked too old, so it’s not a deal-breaker.
The extras are listed below:
- Interview with Jeremy Thomas (17:53): An archive Q&A interview from 2004 with captions in place of someone asking questions, although the intro caption tells us the interview was conducted by film critic Jason Solomons.
The film’s producer, Jeremy Thomas, talks about the locations and the relationship between the lead characters.
- Interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto (13:18): Another archive interview, this time talking about him not only scoring the film, but also playing Captain Yonoi. There’s no date specified on this extra.
Note, the menu incorrectly names him ‘Ruichi Sakamoto’.
- Oshima: The Man Behind The Films (44:54): An exclusive newly-filmed appreciation from critic Tony Rayns. As this is the newest extra, I’d have led the extras with this. Chaptering is still sparse with just 3.
- The Man Who Left His Soul On Film (1983) (85:32): Paul Joyce‘s documentary profile of director Nagisa Oshima. It has 10 chapters. The menu states it’s an 82-minute documentary. Someone’s miscounted somewhere as it’s longer.
- The Oshima Gang (1983) (29:53): A documentary following the film’s cast and makrers at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.
- Trailer (3:12): Quite a long trailer, and in 4:3.
- Radio spots (3:07): 3 US Radio adverts and 2 US Review adverts.
- Image Gallery: 22 on-set images.
I just received the disc itself for review, but the retail version also includes a reversible sleeve featuring two choices of artwork by Sam Hadley (see both below), and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Jasper Sharp.
The menu features music from the film mixed in with clips, there are subtitles in English and the bog-standard 12 chapters.
Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence is released today on Blu-ray Special Edition.
Running time: 124 minutes
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: June 15th 2020
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio, DTS 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Nagisa Ôshima
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Novel: Laurens van der Post (The Seed And The Sower)
Screenplay: Nagisa Ôshima, Paul Mayersberg
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Major Jack Celliers: David Bowie
Lt Cpl John Lawrence: Tom Conti
Captain Yonoi: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Sgt Hara: Takeshi Kitano
Hicksley: Jack Thompson
Kanemoto: Johnny Ohkura
De Jong: Alistair Browning
Celliers’ Brother: James Malcolm
Celliers aged 12 Years: Chris Broun
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.