Oct 7, 2010
David Bowie has played various film roles during his career where he has magical and supernatural powers, probably because he is known for being a space oddity of sorts. That being said, I do not think he has ever seemed more powerful than he does in the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence directed by Japanese auteur Nagisa Oshima. David Bowie has been an ambiguously queer fellow his whole life (I think he fancies black women now), no doubt the British heir of Oscar Wilde’s dandy boy legacy. In Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust powers reach their full potency in a film that Yukio Mishima would have probably (secretly) described as his favorite romance movie had he not committed ritual suicide via Seppuku before the film was released. Despite the film being fairly aesthetically normal (or many times, even boring), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a certainly film like no other, a demented forbidden romance between Anglo male and Japanese male, a song of subversive ultra-nationalistic Samurai sexuality.
Colonel John Lawrence is a charming British fellow, a man that looks after his fellow British POW comrades and attempts to form a somewhat positive relationship with his Japanese captors. Lawrence has no tolerance for Japs giving his fellow Brits slaps (on top of much worse physical punishment), thus resulting in being beaten many times whilst coming to his comrades rescue. Like the cultured Brit that he is, Mr. Lawrence also prefers chatting (as opposed to physical barbarism) with his Japanese captors in a respectful manner, attempting to instill reason into a group of Japanese men who still live by a strict and many times irrational spiritual Japanese Samurai code. One Japanese chap asks Mr. Lawrence, “Is it true that all English men are Homosexuals?” I consider that a fair question as I wondered the same thing for the longest time but then I realized I was just used to American-style barbarian manners and a less refined (and bastardized) form of the English language. Mr. Lawrence is no doubt offended by the Japanese man’s question regarding Anglo sexuality and assures the silly Jap that wartime is just a time for extra special male bonding. Somewhat shockingly (to me), the Japanese man states, “You all fear homosexuality, a Samurai doesn’t fear it.” The great Japanese Samurai writer Yukio Mishima probably feared it (or at least was ashamed of it), but that may have also led him to be the last famous figure in Japan to commit Seppuku, a poetic honor like no other, a feat that truly proves that the sword is mightier than the pen.
Aesthetically, aside from the films wonderful (if not somewhat dated) soundtrack, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is not exactly the most innovative film. The power of the film lies between the chemistry of the actors, most notably David Bowie (who plays Jack Celliers) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (who plays Captain Yonoi). Captain Yonoi is an uptight authoritarian figure who seems to follow a strict Samurai code; that is until he first sees Jack Celliers. Any fellow Jap that attempts to harm Celliers, Captain Yonoi punishes in an almost reflex-like manner. Immediately, Mr. Lawrence becomes perplexed by Yonoi’s obsession with Jack Celliers but soon realizes it is of a homoerotic nature. In fact, it becomes fairly blatant to everyone at the POW camp that Captain Yonoi has a homoerotic obsession with Celliers, so obvious that Yonoi's ADC attempts to kill Jack in hopes that it will free Yonoi-boy from his gay love. David Bowie’s flower-eating super-homo powers are far too powerful for Yonoi, so compelling that Mr. Stardust prevents the execution of a man by kissing the Captain and causing him to lose all of his sexually repressed Samurai discipline. This simple kiss scene is possibly the gayest scene I ever seen in a film despite how seemingly innocent it may seem. In Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence David Bowie’s lifelong crusade of extra spacey ambiguously gay power finally reaches it full peak with a mere peck on the cheek.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a film that caught me by surprise for I expected another boring American POW World War II film and received a rainbow roller-coaster through sexually-repressed Samurai hell. No tour through Stalingrad or South Africa could prepare a viewer for a film like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence nor could a Rainer Werner Fassbinder cinema marathon. I fear that the blond rebel beast David Bowie will now haunt my dreams, staring at me with his heterochromia eyes, chewing on his flowers for what would feel like hours. Near the conclusion of the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence Jack Celliers suffers a tragic end buried from the neck down in a Japanese torture garden. Still, by the end of the film one feels content knowing Captain Yonoi salutes his comrade one last time.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:12 PM
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