Friday, October 01, 2010

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a real curiosity piece, as well as something of a minor holy grail for film buffs in the U.S. Probably the last time it was available here in the States was in the late 80s or early 90s on VHS. Thanks to the fine folks at Criterion, that’s no longer the case. Like many people, I became familiar with it due to its soundtrack, which wasn’t quite as difficult to find, at least if you knew where to look. That music was composed by one of the film’s stars, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the title track remains one of the greatest single pieces of music in film history. So transcendent is it that it’s managed to take on a life of its own, and has been remixed, rearranged and covered by at least a dozen artists, many in the past decade. Sakamoto admits that there was a lengthy period of time in which he learned to hate the tune, as it overshadowed nearly everything else he’d created in his long career. And it is probably a better piece of art than the film itself, but that’s really an apples and oranges kind of thing, so it’d be best to not go there.

The movie takes place in a Japanese POW camp during World War II and primarily concerns four very different men: two Japanese warders from the East and two British prisoners from the West. The first pair we meet are Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) and Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), who have an unusual kinship. They frequently sit and engage in civilized discourse, while in other moments Hara seems to take great pleasure in beating the shit out of Lawrence for insubordination. It never fazes Lawrence, and he typically picks himself up after a beating and goes on about the business of trying to explain his perception of the differences between their two cultures to Hara.

The dramatic thrust of the film, however, exists somewhere in the lack of communication between Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) and Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto), the camp commandant. From the first moment Yonoi lays eyes on Celliers, he is transfixed, and from that moment onward he makes Celliers his pet project, but to what end is unclear. Both men suffer from serious cases of regret, and yet they’re never able to explain to one another what they have in common. Celliers quickly becomes a disruptive force, while Yonoi tries to find new methods of keeping him down, while also building him up. It’s a movie relationship that practically defies a cogent description, because it’ll mean something different to each viewer.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.