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.



Total Count: 20


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,514
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Movie Info

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence was the first English-language project of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima (Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses). In tune with his previous filmic essays on racism and brutality, Merry Christmas concentrates on a war of wills between rebellious POW Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) and camp commandant Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakomoto). Assuming that his other prisoners' unwillingness to protest their cruel treatment is a sign of weakness, Yonoi is most impressed by Celliers' enigmatic defiance. While Celliers and Yonoi seem to be operating on a high spiritual and intellectual plane, bilingual prisoner Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti) (the "Mr. Lawrence" of the title) engages in a more standard adversarial relationship with sadistic Sergeant Gengo Hara (Takeshi Kitano).


David Bowie
as Maj. Jack 'Strafer' Celliers
Tom Conti
as Col. John Lawrence
Ryuichi Sakamoto
as Capt. Yonoi
Takeshi Kitano
as Sgt. Gengo Hara
Jack Thompson
as Hicksley-Ellis
Johnny Okura
as Kanemoto
James Malcolm
as Celliers' brother
Christopher Broun
as Celliers (age 12)
Yuya Uchida
as Military Prison Commandant
Ryunosuke Kaneda
as President of the Court
Takashi Naitô
as Lt. Iwata
Taketoshi Naito
as Lt. lwata
Tamio Ishikura
as Prosecutor
Rokko Toura
as Interpreter
Kan Mikami
as Lt. Ito
Chris Broun
as Jack (boy)
Yuji Honma
as Pfc. Yajima
Christopher Brown
as Celliers at Age 12
Daisuke Iijima
as Cpl. Ueki
Hideo Murota
as New Camp Commandant
Barry Dorking
as Chief Doctor
Geoff Clendon
as Australian Doctor
Grant Bridger
as P.O.W. Officer
Marc Berg
as P.O.W.
Rob Jayne
as P.O.W.
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Critic Reviews for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (16) | Rotten (4)

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

    Dec 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.

    Oct 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.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

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

    Oct 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.

    Aug 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.

    Jan 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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