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Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Japanese: ), also known as Furyo in many European editions) is a 1983 film directed by Nagisa Oshima, produced by Jeremy Thomas and starring David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yuya Uchida, and Takeshi Kitano.

It was written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg and based on Laurens van der Post's experiences during World War II as a prisoner of war as depicted in his works The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970). Sakamoto also wrote the musical score and the vocal theme "Forbidden Colours" featuring David Sylvian, which was a hit single in many territories.

The film was entered into the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.


The film deals with the relationships among four men in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War — Jack Celliers (Bowie), a rebellious prisoner with a guilty secret from his youth; Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto), the young camp commandant; Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Conti), a Britishmarker officer who has lived in Japanmarker and speaks Japanese fluently; and Sergeant Hara (Kitano), with whom Lawrence develops a peculiar friendship.

Like Celliers, Yonoi, too, is tormented by guilt. Having been posted to Manchuria previously, he was unable to be in Tokyo with his Army comrades, the "Shining Young Officers" of Japan's February 26 Incident, a 1936 military coup d'état. When the coup fails, the young army officers are executed. Yonoi regrets not being able to share their patriotic sacrifice. Jack Celliers had betrayed his deformed younger brother while the two of them were attending boarding school. Although Celliers confesses this only to Lawrence, Captain Yonoi senses in Celliers a kindred spirit. He wants to replace the British camp commandant Colonel Hicksley with Celliers as spokesman for the prisoners.

The taboo of homosexuality, especially harsh in an otherwise ultranationalist and traditional environment, is suggested throughout the film. A Korean soldier is condemned to commit seppuku after being caught in an "improper" relationship with one of the Dutch prisoners. As the execution is carried out, the Dutch prisoner, who is forced to watch it along with the rest of the prisoners and the Japanese officials as well, bites his tongue and then dies of suffocation himself.

As Celliers is interned in the camp, Yonoi seems to develop a homoerotic fixation with him, often asking Hara about him, silently visiting him in the small hours when Celliers is confined. However, later on, Yonoi becomes enraged by Celliers' behaviour and has him buried in the ground up to his neck as a means of punishment.

As the allies approach the camp, all prisoners are prompted to form lines outside the barracks, including sick and moribund ones. The climax of the film is reached by then, when Celliers breaks the rank and walks decidedly in Yonoi's direction, only to end up resolutely kissing him in the cheek with a straight face. This is an unbearable offense to Yonoi's bushido honor code; he reaches out for his katana against Celliers, only to collapse under the conflicting feelings of vindicating himself from the offense suffered in front of his troops and his own feelings for Celliers, who is subsequently sentenced to death. Captain Yonoi himself is redeployed.

Four years later, Lawrence visits Sergeant Hara, who has now been imprisoned by the Allied forces. Hara reveals that he is going to be executed the next day. The two bid each other farewell for the last time. Just before Lawrence leaves, Hara happily wishes Lawrence a Merry Christmas.



The film deals with communication between cultures. Lawrence is the only one who can effectively communicate with the Japanese officers, but the British camp commandant, Colonel Hicksley, sees his liaison with the Japanese as a betrayal. Each culture has its own code of conduct, each of which is unfathomable to the other. Lawrence tries to bridge the gap, but he is hampered by the fact that Yonoi and Hara don't understand, nor try to understand, the British as well as Lawrence understands – or tries to understand – the Japanese. The film clearly adopts the British point of view and, in that, some of the attendant British colonialist attitudes.

The film closely examines psychological and psychoanalytical reasons for the way people act in time of war. The tension of an unaccepted homoerotic disposition towards a foreign prisoner seizing the otherwise ultranationalist and conservative Captain Yonoi is one of the main themes as well. Indeed, Cellier's kissing of Yonoi appears, in this respect, to be much about imperial control and knowingness. His provocation is at once an assertion of presumed superiority and a cunning that exploits Yonoi's sublimated homosexuality, to prove that he (Celliers), the emblem of white British, heterosexual colonialism, would live on even if he died. But moreover, the film examines the controlling power of desire and the unexpected forms that it can take.

The English title of the movie hints at its main theme, of which Christmas represents a time of forgiveness and new birth. In the film's final scene, with the war over and Hara now the prisoner, Lawrence pays him a visit. It is here that he contemplates that both sides of the war committed atrocities - with no side being in the right, and would release Hara from his death sentence if he could. To this, Hara wishes Lawrence a "Merry Christmas" - suggesting that despite the war's atrocities, all can be forgiven. Yet, bearing in the mind colonialist aspect of the film, it is a rather condescending and racist gesture, in that we are given to believe that the Japanese, represented by Hara, cheerily accept their defeat and the rightness of British punishment.

When released commercially, the theme music was called "Forbidden Colours", a reference to Mishima's novel on the incompatibility of gayness with the "modern samurai" ideal.


All compositions by Ryuichi Sakamoto, except where noted. "Forbidden Colours" is sung by David Sylvian.

Track listing

  1. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence"
  2. "Batavia"
  3. "Germination"
  4. "A Hearty Breakfast"
  5. "Before the War"
  6. "The Seed and the Sower"
  7. "A Brief Encounter"
  8. "Ride, Ride, Ride (Celliers' Brother's Song)"
  9. "The Fight"
  10. "Father Christmas"
  11. "Dismissed"
  12. "Assembly"
  13. "Beyond Reason"
  14. "Sowing the Seed"
  15. "23rd Psalm" (traditional)
  16. "Last Regrets"
  17. "Ride, Ride, Ride (Reprise)"
  18. "The Seed"
  19. "Forbidden Colours" (Sakamoto/David Sylvian)

Notes about the music

The film is notable for its soundtrack, by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The main score, which bears the same title as the movie, ranks among Sakamoto's most well-known songs and made him known to a broader public. The soundtrack also contains the vocal version of this title track, better known as "Forbidden Colours" with lyrics sung and composed by David Sylvian.

There is a 12" vinyl remake version on the famous Italian record label DISCOMAGIC named "Clock On 5 - Theme From Furyo."

A cover version of "Forbidden Colours" is included on Hollywood Mon Amour, a collection of songs made famous by their inclusion on soundtracks of movies made in the 1980s, rearranged by Marc Collin of Nouvelle Vague with Nadeah providing the vocals.

In 2000, a re-mix of Ryuichi Sakamoto's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence called Heart of Asia was released in Europe by dance group Watergate.

In 2003, Japanese singer Ai sampled this song in the R&B-oriented "Merry Christmas Mr. Laurence" (sic), the b-side on her single "My Friend".

In 2008, Indonesian singer Anggun used a sample from this song on "Hymne a la vie" -- a track on her album Elevation.

In 2008, UK Hardcore producer Orbit1 remixed this song and called it Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. It came out on the Hardcore Nation 2009.

In 2009, Japanese-American pop singer Hikaru Utada used a sample from this song on her second English-language album This Is the One, entitling her song "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - FYI.". The lyrics reference to the movie as well .

The song is also used (in edited form) as the theme song to the Atari XE port of International Karate (for the Sydney stage)

Japanese Post-Hardcore band FACT recorded a track by the title Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence on their self-titled album.



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