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CONSPIRACY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence


Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence "Merry Christmas on the Battlefield"), also known in many European editions as Furyo (Japanese for "prisoner of war"), is a 1983 British-Japanese war film. It was directed by Nagisa Oshima, written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg, and produced by Jeremy Thomas. It stars David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano and Jack Thompson.

The film is based on Sir Laurens van der Post's experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II as depicted in his books The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970). Sakamoto additionally wrote the score and the vocal theme "Forbidden Colours", featuring David Sylvian.


The film was entered into the 1983 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d'Or.[5] Sakamoto's score won the film a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.

The film deals with the relationships among four men in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War — Major Jack Celliers (Bowie), a rebellious British officer with a guilty secret from his youth; Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto), the young camp commandant; Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Conti), another British officer who has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese fluently; and Sergeant Hara (Kitano), who is brutal, yet humane in some ways and with whom Lawrence develops an unlikely friendship.


Just as Celliers is troubled by guilt, Yonoi is haunted with shame. Having been posted to Manchuria previously, he was unable to be in Tokyo with his Army comrades, the "Shining Young Officers" of Japan's February 26 Incident, an attempted 1936 military coup. When it failed, the young army officers were executed. Yonoi regrets not being able to share their patriotic sacrifice. Jack Celliers had betrayed his younger brother while the two of them were attending boarding school in South Africa. Although Celliers confesses this only to Lawrence, Captain Yonoi senses in Celliers a kindred spirit. He wants to replace British RAAF Group Captain Hicksley (the ranking Allied officer and prisoner representative) with Celliers as the spokesman for the prisoners.


As Celliers is interned in the camp, Yonoi seems to develop a homoerotic fixation with him, often asking Hara about him, silently visiting him in the night while Celliers is asleep. Celliers, who is known by the nickname of "Strafer" Jack (a "strafer" is a "soldier's soldier"), instigates a number of small rebellious actions, one of which is supplying the men with food after their rations are withhheld two days for their actions during the seppuku of a Korean guard, whom Yonoi deemed "spiritually lazy". Yonoi's batman (personal servant) surmises the mental hold Celliers has on Yonoi and tries to kill him but fails. Celliers manages to escape from his cell and rescues Lawrence, only to be unexpectedly confronted by Yonoi. Yonoi challenges Celliers to single combat saying "If you defeat me, you will be free" but Celliers refuses, thrusting his prior assailant's bayonet into the sand. Yonoi's batman then commits seppuku in atonement after urging Yonoi to kill Celliers before Celliers destroys him.


When a radio is discovered in the possession of the POWs after Celliers circumvented the rations suspension Yonoi forces Celliers and Lawrence to accept the blame and puts them into nearby holding cells pending execution. The two men reminisce about their pasts. However, on Christmas Eve, a drunken Sergeant Hara orders Celliers and Lawrence to be brought to him. Hara then tells them he is "Father Christmas" and orders their release as another prisoner confessed responsibility for the radio. As the two men leave, Hara calls out in English, "Merry Christmas, Lawrence!"

Although Yonoi is angry that Sergeant Hara released Celliers and Lawrence, he is only mildly reprimanded for exceeding his authority. He is then assigned to oversee (with some of the prisoners) the construction of an airstrip.


Hicksley worries that Yonoi wants to replace him as spokesman for the POW's and confronts him, demanding an explanation. Furious at Hicksley's impudence (while at the same time denying Yonoi the information he seeks), the whole camp is paraded on Yonoi's order. All the prisoners are ordered to form up outside the barracks, including the sick and disabled. When Hicksley refuses to assemble the latter group, an enraged Yonoi prepares to kill him. At this point Celliers breaks rank and walks up to Yonoi, between him and Hicksley, and kisses him on each cheek. This is an unbearable offence to Yonoi's bushido honour code; and he reaches for his katana, only to collapse under the conflicting feelings of wanting vindication for the offence suffered in front of his men; and his feelings for Celliers. Celliers is then attacked and beaten by the Japanese soldiers.

Captain Yonoi is immediately replaced as commandant and his successor declares, "I am not as sentimental as Captain Yonoi!" He has Celliers buried in the sand up to his neck and left to die. Before leaving, Captain Yonoi goes to Celliers at night when no one is around and cuts a lock from his hair, then bows and leaves. Celliers dies shortly afterwards.

In 1946, four years later, Lawrence visits Sergeant Hara who is now a prisoner himself of the Allies. Hara has learned to speak English while in captivity and reveals he is to be executed the following day for war crimes. He states he is not afraid to die, but doesn't understand how his actions were any different from those of any other soldier. Lawrence implicitly agrees, saying that Hara is a "victim of men who think they are right". After referencing his own time as a POW Lawrence says "We are all wrong". He then tells Hara that Yonoi gave him a lock of Celliers' hair and asked him to take it to his village in Japan and place it in a shrine. Hara then reminisces about Celliers and Yonoi. It is revealed that Yonoi too was executed after the war. Hara asks Lawrence if he remembers the Christmas Eve he had him released, and both are amused. The two then bid one another goodbye; Lawrence, his voice breaking, says, "There are times when victory is very hard to take." As he is leaving, Hara calls out: "Lawrence!!! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence!"


Posted by George Freund on December 25, 2019 at 9:20 PM 147 Views