Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

Critics Consensus

Worthy themes and strong performances across the board make Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence an impactful story about bridging cultural divides.

82%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 22

79%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,532
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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence Photos

Movie Info

During World War II, British soldier Jack Celliers (David Bowie) is captured by Japanese forces and held in a prison camp by the honor-bound Capt. Yanoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto). Yanoi and gruff Sgt. Hara (Takeshi) become intrigued with Celliers' open defiance in the face of their staunchly old-world ideas about cowardice and shame. Meanwhile, a translator, Lt. Col. John Lawrence (Tom Conti), attempts to find common ground between British and Japanese beliefs.

Cast & Crew

David Bowie
Maj. Jack "Strafer" Celliers
Tom Conti
Col. John Lawrence
Takeshi Kitano
Sgt. Gengo Hara
Jack Thompson
Group Capt. Hicksley
James Malcolm
Celliers' Brother
Chris Broun
Celliers aged 12
Grant Bridger
P.O.W. Officer
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Critic Reviews for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (18) | Rotten (4)

  • The Merry Christmas catalogue of atrocities finally becomes numbing, even ludicrous.

    December 10, 2008 | Full Review…
  • From Oshima's later career... most notable is this bilingual, end-of-WWII tearjerker about forgiveness and understanding between cultures, which could have been dubbed The Man Who Fell to Java.

    October 2, 2008 | Full Review…
  • For all the praise heaped upon Oshima's admittedly ambitious film about East-West relations in the microcosm of a Japanese PoW camp during World War II, it's far less satisfactory than most of his earlier work.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Here's a movie that is even stranger than it was intended to be.

    October 23, 2004 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Mr. Oshima has staged the film in a spacious tropical setting and filled it with a great number of extras. Even so, Mr. Bowie always stands out from the crowd.

    August 30, 2004 | Rating: 3/5
  • The context and frequent incontinence of the execution bring the film uncomfortably close to the pseudophilosophical bondage fantasies of Yukio Mishima.

    January 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

  • Apr 15, 2013
    An interesting yet tonally and structurally uneven POW drama from acclaimed Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" is enjoyable in various areas, but mainly too strange and off-putting to merit a second watch. And it's a shame because David Bowie gives probably his best performance in it.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer
  • Feb 28, 2013
    A very unconventional film. It adds to the canon of films depicting Japanese POW camps quite interestingly. It borders on an almost insane direction but it ultimately rewarding.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 19, 2011
    It is 1942 in a Japanese prisoner or war camp in Java. Sergeant Hara(Takeshi Kitano) summons Colonel Lawrence(Tom Conti) to see Kanemoto(Johnny Ohkura), a Korean guard, commit seppuku for sodomizing De Jong(Alistair Browning), a Dutch prisoner, because according to Hara, you cannot understand the Japanese until you have witnessed it. Luckily, Captain Yonoi(Ryuichi Sakamato) interrupts, saying the matter will have to wait until he gets back. The matter in question is a military trial in Batavia of Major Celliers(David Bowie) who Lawrence was acquainted with in Libya. Along the lines of the analysis given in the film "Fear and Trembling"(thanks for giving away the ending, by the way), I would have to say that the message of the very much flawed and unfocused film "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" is that under different circumstances the English and Japanese characters could have been friends which is possible I suppose. But sadly the movie does not stir the emotions well enough to be truly considered anti-war, like the far superior "Grand Illusion." In fact, I think "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" goes so far as to excuse the horrific behavior of Japanese soldiers by putting it down to sexual frustration. Although, come to think of it, that does fit in well with the homo-eroticism of the piece and might explain the miscasting of David Bowie who is too gorgeous to ever be confused with a hardcore soldier. It is especially weird when he says he wish he could sing in character after an irrelevant exploration of Celliers' past which just goes to prove how long bullying has been around for.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • Jan 26, 2011
    If only our government could watch a film like this, it too could learn a lot.
    Chris B Super Reviewer

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