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Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence(1983)
Celliers, a high-ranking British officer, is interned by the Japanese as a POW. The camp commander becomes obsessed with the mysterious blond major. Meanwhile, lieutenant colonel Mr. Lawrence tries to bridge the emotional and language divides between his captors and fellow prisoners.
For more about Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and the Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray release, see the Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray Review
Starring: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano
Director: Nagisa Oshima
» See full cast & crew
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 28, 2010
Nominated for Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima's "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" (1983) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include a behind the scenes featurette; new video interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg; new video interview with actors Tom Conti and Ryuichi Sakamoto and producer Jeremy Thomas; new interview with actor and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto; "Hasten Slowly", a documentary film by Mickey Lemle; and the film's original theatrical trailer. The disc also arrives with 30-page illustrated booklet. In English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Java, 1942. A large contingent of British POWs is kept in a remote Japanese prison camp. Amongst the prisoners, many of whom are seriously injured, are officers Celliers (David Bowie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Just a Gigolo), a proud, fearless to the point of stupidity, and brash man, and Lawrence (Tom Conti, Reuben, Reuben), strikingly intelligent, fluent in Japanese, and quiet loner. Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto, The Last Emperor), a young, well educated, and proud officer, and Hara (Takeshi Kitano, referred in the final credits only as Takeshi, Sonatine, Brother), a cruel but honorable warrior who isn't afraid of death, run the camp.
While the war rages on far away from Java, a strange bond forms between Celliers, Lawrence, Yonoi, and Hara. Even though they remain enemies, the men begin to admire each other - Yonoi admires Celliers and his spirit while Hara is impressed with Lawrence's tact and diplomatic skills.
The more time the men spend together, however, the less they understand what motivates them. What confuses them the most is the fact that neither side is particularly supportive of the war. Eventually, some of their mutual admiration evolves into frustration. As a result, Yonoi begins punishing some of the prisoners and even forces a few of his men to commit seppuku.
Based on Laurens Van der Post's novel, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is directed by Nagisa Oshima, arguably the most radical of mainstream Japanese directors. It is scripted as a war film but it is in fact a very complex examination of Japanese spirituality, and in particular Japanese attitude towards violence and death.
The film's morality is deeply rooted into the Japanese belief that, like life and death, love and violence are interconnected. Unsurprisingly, the admiration and respect Yonoi and Hara gradually develop for Celliers and Lawrence are expressed through acts of violence.
Another important aspect of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is the fact that the narrative is characterized by the strong presence of evil yet none of the main protagonists are evil men. They do hurt each other but not in conventional ways - or at least not until the final third of the film. For example, in one of the most memorable scenes from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - which has given many Western critics the confidence to incorrectly conclude that the film houses homosexual overtones - Celliers publicly kisses Yonoi in order to humiliate him. It is the most efficient way for him to hurt his enemy - exposing his disappointment with the fact that he is forced by international law to treat the prisoners in the camp in a way that contradicts his beliefs.
Director Oshima gained international recognition with his In the Realm of the Senses, an explicit film exploring the relationship between passion and sex, and specifically the eroticism of physical action. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is very much a film that explores a similar relationship, though this time around sex is replaced with spirituality.
Note: In 1983, Merry Mr. Lawrence was nominated for Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A year later, the film won five Mainichi Film Concours awards, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Film Score (Ryuichi Sakamoto).
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This new high-definition transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive scanned in 2K resolution on a Spirit Datacine 4K machine at Midnight Transfer, London. 2K color correction was done using Assimilate's Scratch system, and dirt and scratch removal was done using Pixel Farm's PFClean system at Cinelmage, London. This corrected data was output to high-definition tape at On Sight, London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine supervisor: Maria Palazzola.
Telecine colorist: Fergus Hally/Cinelmage, London."
This is a strong high-definition transfer. Fine object detail is very good, clarity pleasing, and contrast levels consistent throughout the entire film. The color-scheme is dramatically improved - on the old SDVD R2 release, courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment, the variety of different blues, browns, and greens were very weak and often times bleeding. Now they look well saturated, lush, and natural. Edge-enhancement and macroblocking are not a serious issue of concern. I did not see any traces of heavy noise reduction either. On the contrary, the film's grain structure is very much intact. There are no serious stability issues. When blown through a digital projector, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence conveys pleasing depth and tightness. Lastly, I also did not see any problematic cuts, splices, debris, stains, or damage marks to report in this review. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (with portions of Japanese). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, the English subtitles appear only when Japanese is spoken.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"Presented in its original stereo surround format, the soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm Dolby LT/RT magnetic audio track at Sync Sound Audio, London. Pops, cracks, hiss, and hum were reduced with an array of audio restoration techniques."
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is solid. The dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and very easy to follow. There are no serious balance issues with Ryuichi Sakamoto's music score either. Obviously, considering the film's age the dynamic amplitude is rather limited, but the sound certainly has very pleasing depth and fluidity.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Oshima Gang - in this behind the scenes featurette, produced in 1983, actors David Bowie and Tom Conti, author Laurens van der Post, director Nagisa Oshima, and producer Jeremy Thomas among others discuss the unusual subject matter and tone of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, its production history, its reception at the Cannes Film Festival, etc. In English, without optional English subtitles. (30 min, 1080i).
On the screenplay - in this video interview, recorded in London in 2010, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg recalls his work on the screenplay of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, as well as the various encounters he had with Nagisa Oshima. In English, without optional English subtitles. (28 min, 1080p).
On location - in this video interview, recorded in London and New York in 2010, actors Tom Conti and Ryuichi Sakamoto and producer Jeremy Thomas discuss the production history of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. In English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles for the Japanese portions of the interview. (40 min, 1080p).
On the music - in this interview, conducted exclusively for Criterion in New York in 2010, actor and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto recalls his work on the music score for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence as well as the film's reception. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (19 min, 1080p).
Hasten Slowly - a documentary film, produced and directed by Mickey Lemle, exploring the life and legacy of Sir Laurens van der Post (1906-1996), whose autobiographical novel The Seed and the Sower inspired director Nagisa Oshima to shoot Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. In English, without optional English subtitles. (56 min, 1080i).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. In English, not subtitled in English. (4 min, 1080i).
Booklet - 30-page illustrated booklet containing Chuck Stephens' essay "Lawrence of Shinjuku"; an interview with Nagisa Oshima, conducted by film scholar Tadao Sato in Tokyo in 1983; and an interview with Takeshi Kitano, published in a February 2010 special edition of the monthly Japanese culture magazine Switch.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A fascinating film! There is so much that America and its leaders can learn from it. Criterion's Blu-ray release of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence looks gorgeous and sounds terrific. The disc also contains some truly outstanding supplemental features. I urge you to find the time and watch the video interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg as he offers a terrific analysis of the film's complex message. As usual, this is a Region-A "locked" release. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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