Thursday, December 11, 2014

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

When naming Christmas movies, there is a lot of originality out there. For example, White CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS with the Kranks, I'll be home for CHRISTMAS, and A CHRISTMAS Story.
However, it takes real originality to come up with a name for a World War II Japanese prison camp movie that that has almost nothing to do with Christmas. Thus, let's take a look at Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

Read more to find out the true meaning of "war crimes"...
Lawrence ( Tom Conti ) is a prisoner in a Japanese prison camp in 1942 Java. As someone who had been to Japan before the war and speaks the language, Lawrence builds a rather strong relationship with one of the camp guards, Sgt. Hara (Takeshi Kitano), becoming almost a kind of friendship. This doesn't stop Hara from giving Lawrence the occasional crack across the face with a stick.

The camp is run by Capt. Yonoi, a young soldier who has a strong samurai spirit. He believes in honor and rules, and feels a deep shame for not having been with his fellow soldiers who were killed in an unsuccessful coup d'├ętat years before.
He also has great shading.
Eventually, a British soldier named Celliers (David Bowie) is brought to the camp. Capt. Yonoi seems to see something special in this soldier, and decides he wants to make him the camp prisoners' official liaison. However, after recovering from the terrible treatment he received during his interrogation, Celliers proves to have a rebellious attitude that doesn't fit with Yanoi's plans, and we see Yanoi start to resent Cellier's actions.

As soon as the film starts, it becomes apparent that this isn't a Christmas movie. In fact, the only time Christmas is mentioned is when Sgt. Hara gets drunk and let's Celliers and Lawrence out of solitary confinement, saying he's playing Father Christmas and shouting "Merry Christmas Lawrence!".
Other than that, Christmas cheer in this film is non-existent.
There are, however, some really good performances in the movie. Conti is really likable as the voice of the film. He's soft-spoken and wise, and while other inmates look at the Japanese like ignorant animals, Lawrence has a respect and understanding of their culture.
I totally understand why you bashed me with a stick.
Bowie's performance is just as powerful. If you've ever seen him in other movies, like Labyrinth, you might think he's a campy performer. Celliers, however, is played with a cool and determined strength. You get the feeling that he's just as scared as everyone else, yet he never lets it stop him from standing up for his fellow prisoners.

I still think this movie is fit for holiday viewing, though. You might feel a bit sad by the end, but you can see some real Christmas spirit, in that Cellier's and Lawrence sacrifice a lot for their fellow prisoners. However, it might help to watch it while drinking copious amounts of eggnog laced with rum.

FINAL SCORE- Enough sake to make you want to let the prisoners out of solitary.

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