Hamish’s Perspective | Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

The Two Gay Geeks and our Staff are taking a much needed break from Thanksgiving through the end of the year, but we still wanted to have content for you to read during that time. As such we got busy and watched all of our favorite holiday videos. Some are classics and others are off-beat and loosely associated with the holidays. We hope you enjoy our offerings and that you holiday season is safe, sane, and satisfying.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

By Hamish Downie

Are you looking for something a little more heavyweight than your average Christmas movie, but don’t want to watch “It’s a wonderful life” again?

Well, I might have the movie for you.

This film is played every year in Japan, but outside of Japan, I feel that this film has been largely forgotten.

The film won a BAFTA for best score, was awarded Best Film by the Japanese Academy, and was even nominate for a Palm D’or at Cannes.

So, what is this film about?

Well, it’s hard to say, because just about every description I’ve seen on the internet doesn’t really do it justice.

From Wikipedia: “Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence” is a British-Japanese co-production. It was directed by Nagisa Oshima. The screenplay, written by Oshima with Paul Mayersberg, was based on Sir Laurens van der Post’s experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II as depicted in his works The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970)… 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 seemingly brutal and yet humane in some ways and with whom Lawrence develops an unlikely friendship.”

But, that doesn’t quite cut it… let’s try IMDB:

“During WWII, a British colonel tries to bridge the cultural divides between a British POW and the Japanese camp commander in order to avoid bloodshed.”

An IMDB user, Mattias Thuresson, adds this:

“In 1942 British soldier Jack Celliers comes to a Japanese prison camp. The camp is run by Yonoi, who has a firm belief in discipline, honor and glory. In his view, the allied prisoners are cowards when they chose to surrender instead of committing suicide. One of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence, tries to explain the Japanese way of thinking, but is considered a traitor.”

All of this helps, but every one of them is skirting the issue that this film also deals with themes of being Gay during World War 2, from both sides of enemy lines.

Let’s take a look at the trailer:

By now, you can see that it stars David Bowie, in his career best performance. He made this between starring in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Labyrinth”, his two best remembered films. But, this time, he is not an alien from outta space, or the Goblin King (while not wearing underpants)… here he plays a real man, a war hero.

Playing opposite him is famed Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who audiences outside of Japan might remember for his role playing the “director” in Madonna’s music video for “Rain”:

He writes the music for the film here, and the soundtrack was a top ten hit in Japan, and the theme song is still a concert favourite today. While the syths are a little bit dated now, please take a listen to the theme song played just on a piano:

Which has to be one of the most beautiful pieces ever written.

It also features director and actor “Beat” Takeshi Kitano (whose films have inspired Tarantino), cast against type, as the low level Prison Camp Guard. And it also features Australian acting legend Jack Thompson (who famously posed for Cleo magazine’s centrefold, and was in a relationship with two women at the same time in the 70s).

So, why watch this at Christmastime? Well, if I explained the meaning behind the title, it would spoil the film, but, this is a film about enemies coming together and trying to understand each other, and trying to get through an event which is out of their control. I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a few family Christmases I’ve had.

This is a beautiful film, with a beautiful message. Do what you can to find and watch this hidden gem of a film.

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