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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

directed by Oshima Nagisa
Japan 1983

SYNOPSIS: In this captivating, skewed World War II drama from Nagisa Oshima, David Bowie regally embodies Celliers, a British officer interned by the Japanese as a POW. Rock star Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also composed this film’s hypnotic score) plays the camp commander, obsessed with the mysterious blond major, while Tom Conti is the British lieutenant colonel Lawrence, who tries to bridge the emotional and language divides between captor and prisoner. Also featuring actor-director Takeshi Kitano in his first dramatic role, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a multilayered, brutal, at times erotic tale of culture clash, and one of Oshima’s greatest successes.

***

 

“There are times, when victory is very hard to take”


In 1982 producer Jeremy Thomas received a screenplay by Japanese film director Oshima Nagisa, based upon the 1962 novel by Laurens van der Post, “The Seed and the Sower”, dealing with cultural and identity conflicts between English POWs in a Japanese camp during the second world war and the Japanese commanders. Thomas had previously met Oshima in 1978 in Cannes, when Oshima won best director for “Empire of Passion” and Thomas won the Grand Prix for Skolimowski’s “The Shout”. Thomas handed the screenplay to Pal Mayersberg, who also wrote “The Man who Fell to Earth”, and who in turns reworked the script, and then went to Tokyo with it to discuss it with Oshima. Thus the production began and a strong friendship, which later would create films like Oshima’s “Gohatto” and Kitano’s “Brother”.

When the British soldier Celliers arrive at a POW camp in Java, starved and tortured, the social structure of the camp is disrupted. Being the liaison for the prisoners, but also trying to understand what drives the Japanese, the liaison officer Lawrence, is caught between the two sides, struggling to make each side understand the other. The situation is further unbalanced by Yonoi’s homoerotic attractions to Celliers, which causes a personal conflict, that further is enhanced by the guards view of Celliers as the devil. In order to find inner peace, and re-establish order in the camp, Celliers must die.

The story deals with the cultural and identity differences between those who belong to the British Empire and those who belong to the Japanese Emperor, and has two axis: The first axis deals with the relationship between the leader of the prison camp, Yonoi, played by composer Sakamoto, and the prisoner Celliers, played by Bowie, and its momentum is driven by Yonoi’s samurai code of honour and Celliers rebellion. The second axis deals with the relationship between the guard Hara, played by Kitano, and the prisoners liaison, played by Conti, and is driven by how their friendship.

Both axis’ are driven by the sense of honour (or lack thereof). The Japanese view the English prisoners as lacking any honour, as they chose to taken as prisoners rather than killing themselves, and the English view the Japanese as having no honour in the way they treat the prisoners (and themselves).

In many ways the thinking mans “Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” is not so much about the war, but about the consequences of war. In the final segment of the film, taking place in 1946, Lawrence visits Hara in his cell, where he awaits execution for war crimes. Hara, who has come to terms with his fate, asks Lawrence why he must die, as he only did what any other soldier did or would have done if in the same situation, to which Lawrence contemplates,

“We are victims of men who believe they are right, just as you and Yonoi believed absolutely that you were right. And the truth is, of course, that no one is right.”

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" is one of those rare films, which perfection dwell in the symbiosis between story, director and actors. And it was recognized, to some degree as the film first came out, being nominated for the Palm d’Or and both Conti and Kitano were in consideration as best actors, but more and more over time, as today, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” stands as one of Oshima’s greatest films and the greatest performances by actors involved. A haunting masterpiece.

Henrik Sylow

Poster

Theatrical Release: May 28, 1983

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Comparison: 

Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray

Big thanks to Henrik Sylow for the DVD Review!

Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL LEFT vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray RIGHT

DVD Box Cover

 

Distribution

Optimum

Region 2 - PAL

Criterion Collection - Spine # 535 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
Runtime 1:58:11 (4% PAL speedup) 2:03:18.224
Video

1.78:1 Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.56 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

1080P / 23.976 fps Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 47,068,078,103 bytes

Feature: 24,928,063,488 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.51 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate DVD

Bitrate Blu-ray

Audio 2.0 Dolby Digital English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese 2035 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2035 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Subtitles English (fixed) English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Optimum

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• The Oshima Gang (29:35)
• Interview with Jeremy Thomas (17:50)
• Interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto (11:01)
• Excerpt from 'Scenes at the Sea' (3:10)
• Trailer (3:03)

DVD Release Date: January 24, 2005
Keep case

Chapters 16

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

 

1080P / 23.976 fps Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 47,068,078,103 bytes

Feature: 24,928,063,488 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.51 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video


Edition Details:
• The Oshima Gang, a 1983 making-of featurette (29:39 in HD!)
• New video interviews with producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, actor Tom Conti, and actor-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto
• Hasten Slowly, an hour-long 1996 documentary about author Laurens van der Post, whose autobiographical novel was the basis for the film
• Original theatrical trailer (3:13)
• 30-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens and reprinted interviews with director Nagisa Oshima and actor Takeshi Kitano


Blu-ray Release Date: September 28th, 2010
Transparent Blu-ray Case

Chapters 18

 

Comments

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray - September 2010: This is a pretty substantial improvement over the PAL release - much sharper, far better, and tighter rendered, colors, more grain... and even the subtitles are better. The dual-layered, 1.78:1, 1080P transfer shows depth. I don't there is much more I can add beyond viewing the screen captures.

Criterion's audio is a very competent DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel at 2035 kbps supporting the original Japanese and English. It doesn't sound flat and the stereo carries some range.  The Blu-ray contains, improved, optional English subtitles and my Momitsu confirms that the disc is region 'A'-locked.

Criterion expands upon the solid supplements of the 'Special Collector's Edition'. This includes the 30-minute The Oshima Gang, a 1983 making-of featurette which has interviews with Bowie, Tom Conti, author Laurens van der Post, director Nagisa Oshima and producer Jeremy Thomas - among others. However, on the Criterion - it is in HD.  'On the Screenplay' (28:01 - also in HD) is a video piece recorded for Criterion in 2010 with Paul Mayersberg who discusses the development of the screenplay for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and working with Nagisa Oshima. 'On Location' is also a new 40-minute featurette featuring Tom Conti, Ryűichi Sakamoto and producer Jeremy Thomas reminiscing about Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. 'On the Music' is another new interview, 18-minutes,  with actor/composer Ryűichi Sakamoto on the score of the film. Hasten Slowly is a 1996, 55-minute, documentary about author Laurens Van der Post, whose autobiographical novel was the basis for the film. In addition to writing many books, Van der Post was a war hero, journalist, philosopher, conservationist, and advisor to the British heads of government. There is a 4:3 trailer in HD and Criterion includes a 30-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens and reprinted interviews with director Nagisa Oshima and actor Takeshi Kitano.

I was indifferent to this film the first time I watched it a few years ago - but I appreciated it much more in the glory of HD - with a vastly improved a/v presentation by Criterion. I was also able to gain more information on the production from the bountiful supplements and the author, Laurens Van der Post. I think this is definitely worth seeing at some point and we can't recommend the Criterion package any higher for enjoying in your home theater.

 - Gary W. Tooze

****

ON THE OPTIMUM DVD (written 2005): This is one incredibly beautiful presentation. The image has its original slightly lowered colour scheme and is modest. The only artifacts I could spot was colour banding (see wall behind Bowie in frame #2).

About the frame presentation of 1.78:1, I cannot say if the matte has been opened from 1.85:1 or been cropped from 1.66:1. Most likely the former. My VHS letterboxed version of the film is in 1.85:1, but the frame is seriously cropped left/right and top/bottom, which makes comparison impossible.

Sound is the original 2.0 Dolby Digital track. It is clear and no noise audible.

Subtitles are fixed and only available during non-English dialogue. Fixed subtitles are always a point of criticism, and that its only available during non-English dialogue more so, as those hard-of-hearing or deaf cannot enjoy the film.

The additional material begins with a half-hour long program from 1983 about the film, its production, its themes, discussed via interviews and clips. The quality of the source seems to be VHS. It is presented in 4:3 full screen.

Following this comes two newly made and very personal interviews: One with producer Jeremy Thomes who talks about the production, the other with composer Sakamoto Ryuichi, who plays Yonoi in the film, and who talks about his role, the film, its themes, the score and Kitano.

Next comes an excerpt from the 2000 Channel 4 program "Scenes by the Sea", covering Kitano's involvement in "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence". The full program is available on the Cinema Club R2 DVD of "Brother".

Finally the original trailer, presented in 4:3 (fullscreen) and in very poor quality.

 - Henrik Sylow

 





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Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM


Subtitle sample

 

 


Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


  Optimum (Special Collector's Edition) - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 


Report Card:

 

Image:

Blu-ray

Sound:

Blu-ray

Extras: Blu-ray
DVD Box Cover

 

Distribution

Optimum

Region 2 - PAL

Criterion Collection - Spine # 535 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray


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