Furyo - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

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German title Furyo - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Original title Senjō no merī kurisumasu / Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Country of production Great Britain
original language English
Publishing year 1983
length 124 minutes
Age rating FSK 16
Director Nagisa Ōshima
script Paul Mayersberg
Nagisa Ōshima
production Jeremy Thomas
music Ryuichi Sakamoto
camera Tōichirō Narushima
cut Tomoyo Ōshima

The British-Japanese film co-production Furyo - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence was made in 1983 under the direction of Nagisa Ōshima based on the book The seed and the sower by Laurens van der Post . The Japanese title ( 戦 場 の メ リ ー ク リ ス マ ス , Senjō no Merī Kurisumasu ) means "Merry Christmas on the battlefield", the title Furyo ( Japanese 俘虜 ), used only in Europe, means "prisoner of war". After a quarter of a century in film, it was the first film Ōshima made outside of Japan. Thanks to his scandalous success In the Realm of the Senses , he received sufficient funds to shoot the star- studded war film in New Zealand and Rarotonga within 90 days . The film takes place during the Second World War . British prisoners of war are in conflict with their Japanese guards in a camp . David Bowie , Ryūichi Sakamoto , Tom Conti and Takeshi Kitano play the leading roles .


The action is set in 1942 in a Japanese prison camp on Java , in which mainly British soldiers are housed. The Japanese look down with contempt at the Allied soldiers who endure imprisonment instead of committing suicide, as the Japanese deem it proper in their concept of honor. The camp is run by Captain Yonoi, who has strict discipline. Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence, familiar with the language and thinking of the Japanese, tries to mediate between cultures and spends a lot of time with the overseer Hara, and sometimes with Yonoi. When he was summoned to Batavia to take part in the trial against the Briton Celliers, he developed a strong fascination for the stoic, self-confident accused. Celliers jumped off with a parachute , attacked a Japanese convoy with a few comrades and is accused of leading local guerrillas . He is transferred to Yonoi camp, where he taunts Yonoi with rebellious pride in a psychological power struggle.

The British commander, Hicksley, refuses to name Yonoi the weapons experts among the prisoners. He fears that Yonoi will replace him with Lawrence or Celliers. A traditional fast that Yonoi imposes on prisoners for two days and in which he participates himself, Celliers undermines by smuggling corn cakes into the camp. He and Lawrence are placed in solitary confinement and are severely physically abused. Shortly before his expected death, Celliers confesses to Lawrence the reason for his work in favor of the defenseless prisoners: Years ago he took on a serious moral guilt when he abandoned his little brother, which he has suffered from ever since. The situation seems to be eased when the drunken Hara releases the two prisoners from the heightened detention at Christmas. But Yonoi, on the one hand plagued by his suppressed affection, on the other hand under pressure to have to receive information, allows all prisoners to line up, including the injured from the hospital . Because Hicksley still refuses to provide information, Yonoi is about to behead him. At that moment, Celliers, aware of Yonois' affection, steps forward and kisses the warehouse manager. He did not have the strength to kill Celliers for this dishonor and passed out. A new camp manager is appointed, who lets Celliers slowly die in the searing sun, dug up to his head in the sand. At night, the deposed Yonoi sneaks up to Celliers and cuts a lock of his blond hair. In 1946, after the war, Lawrence went to see Hara, who was convicted of war crimes, on the evening before his execution. He regrets that the Allied justice now believes that they are right, as Hara and Yonoi did during the war. Before his own execution by the Allies, the Locke had Yonoi sent to the family shrine in his home village.


The opponents Celliers and Yonoi are embodied by two pop stars, the British pop musician David Bowie and the musician Ryūichi Sakamoto, who is no less well known in his homeland . Ōshima originally thought of Robert Redford as Celliers; He noticed Bowie in an advertisement on Japanese television and sent him the script. For the casting of the roles with Bowie and Sakamoto, the director decided not on the basis of the external appearance, but the charisma, as he said, a "certain psychological and spiritual strength" . As a rule, people with these characteristics are not professional actors. Sakamoto composed the film music, a completely new field of work for him at the time. When Ōshima presented him with the script and asked if he was ready to play Yonoi, Sakamoto obtained, as he said, “some sort of deal” that he could write the music. He used the synthesizers and sampling machines that were popular at the time for composing, and strings and piano were added to the recordings.

Form and themes

Due to the place and time of the action and the motive, the critics often compared the film with Die Brücke am Kwai . The novel The seed and the sower by Laurens van der Post served as a template . As a member of the British Army, the white South African was made a prisoner of war ( Japanese 俘虜 , furyo ) in a Japanese camp. His book, published in 1951, met with little approval because of the differentiated portrayal of the Japanese in England. Van der Post endeavored to overcome Western ignorance and prejudices about the Japanese, whose culture he was quite critical. He reproduced the ideas of the Japanese that existed during the war with the character Hicksley. In 1978 the book was published in Japanese. After reading it, Ōshima was immediately taken with the idea of ​​a film adaptation. For him, who had already read many experience reports about the Japanese camps, the novel stood out from the rest of the literature in that, in addition to facts, it also captured thoughts and feelings and understood the Japanese nature much more deeply. However, Ōshima van der Posts simplified nested narrative into a more straightforward and concise form.

Already in his earlier films and as a publicist, Ōshima had taken a very critical point of view towards the Japanese nation and nationalism. He elaborated more clearly on the proposition in the novel that basic traditional ways of thinking that had resurrected in the 1930s and 1940s favored cruelty and torture during the war. With this, Ōshima tied in with theories about the mass psychology of National Socialism. He tells from the British point of view, although the flashbacks in Celliers' school days reveal them to be as cruel as the Japanese.

The main theme in Furyo is the clash of two very different cultures. Although members of the European and Asian cultures try to converge in the camp, they fail because of incompatible ideas about the role and status of people and remain separated due to a lack of understanding. In the collectivist Japanese culture, the individual personality has to subordinate itself to the group and counts little, the ascetic and fanatical devotion to the emperor counts everything, meanwhile the individualistic British insist on sporting fairness, an inner sense of justice and personal discipline. And while the Japanese seem ready to give up their lives at any time, the British compromise to stay alive. The Japanese and British are by no means single blocs. The Japanese military was socially stratified and politically divided. Yonoi once belonged to the Kōdō-ha , a political faction that aimed to establish a military dictatorship and was crushed after a failed coup in 1936. Herein lies one possible explanation as to why an educated, sensitive man like him was called to a position as low as running a camp on Java. Hara, on the other hand, comes from a rural background, is loud and violent, but can also be very warm. Lawrence acts as a mediator between cultures, who knows how to interpret both mentalities from a distance and who ultimately survives.

One of the recurring themes in shima's work is love, which brings down social constructs. In Furyo it is present through the homosexual undertone in the relationship between Yonoi and Celliers. Yonoi has fallen for the British, but as a member of the Japanese army has to hide his inclination. His passion only shines through in this and that concession to Celliers. For him, the British major is an ideal, a dream identity that he cannot live out because it is suppressed in his culture. This is why Cellier has power over Yonoi, even though he is in command. Celliers' informal power is expressed in the composition of the picture during the court scene: The composition shows the court at right angles to the axis of the picture and symmetrically, and Celliers stands in the middle, facing the main judge. Yonoi, however, stands at an angle to the Richt-Cellier axis when he questions the latter, and the asymmetry shows how the balance of power has gotten out of joint.



The film premiered at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival in May 1983 . It opened in Japanese cinemas on May 28, 1983 and was well attended there. This was followed by cinema releases in some European countries and the USA. From December 2, 1983, the film was shown in the Federal Republic of Germany, where it was seen around 420,000 times. However, the theatrical performance was shortened by a few minutes compared to the original version. The first DVD release in October 1999 was also shortened. It was not until the new release in June 2010 that the film was released in full for the first time.

German language criticism

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , Michael Schwarze said : “Oshima does not use the speculative possibilities of the subject, does not celebrate bloody rituals, does not savor the drastic nature of the material […] The pictures are composed in such a way that there is a difference between the exquisiteness of the picture structure and the picture content often an attractive, occasionally an embarrassing contrast emerges. ” His colleague Wolfram Schütte from the Frankfurter Rundschau was of the opinion that Ōshima had “ succeeded in making a film that is as subtle as it is subversive, in which the signature of this sensualist and calligrapher of the cinema stands out. ” Urs In Der Spiegel, Jenny described the flashbacks in Celliers' school days as “strangely sentimental” , but the work had “a laconic force and impact, a sense for the unheard-of when he staged military ceremonies in its actual setting in such a way that masked erotic rituals become visible in it ” . The film-dienst also made a reservation : “Oshima's film works with far-reaching epic images, often on the verge of kitsch. However, he always intercepts these elements with classic thriller elements: dramatic changes that give the plot a new twist. In this way, a film was created about the rapprochement and the limits of rapprochement between two cultures, which also convinces as a psychological thriller.

The brief discussion at the time objected to the violence and brutality of the "unsuccessful" film, the subject of which was "blood and testicles" . "But the superficial perfection of the staging actually only serves to affirm what the film claims to criticize." The criticism took Ōshima's latest film as an opportunity to reassess In the Realm of the Senses and In the Realm of Passion and questioned its status as a great one Director. So far overestimated, in retrospect it becomes clear that “the aesthetic means lag far behind the violence of his themes.” Urs Jaeggi was also disappointed in Zoom : “Nagisa Oshima's film - actually intended as an attempt to build bridges over the seemingly insurmountable rifts To bring the mentalities in all their diversity closer together and, where this is not possible, at least to appeal to tolerance - largely fails. The matter, which is important in itself, drowns in a sea of ​​speculative scenes and is flattened by a huge cinema machine. The subtleties [...] get lost in the noisy din of innumerable harakiris, tortures and noisy arguments. " The message comes " only weakly on the screen and does not gain the commitment it deserves. " The Fischer Film Almanach 1984 judged: " Oshima is fascinated by the rituals of masculinity and criticizes them at the same time. One can be disgusted by the film, because it celebrates the atrocities apparently without distance, but a defense against the deeds of its heroes can always be felt. [...] The never-ending intensity and density of the film is transferred to the viewer in any case. Whether he agrees with the film, whether he rejects it, he will not be able to evade it. "

Later reviews

According to Ōshima biographer Turim (1998), there are few fictional works that have pursued the torture and violence of war on a global scale, as the interaction of individuals face to face, so resolutely and with so much attention to philosophical and theoretical questions as this film. In a study of Japanese-American relations, Miyoshi (1991) noted with displeasure that the director's perspective had shifted from his earlier work. For example, in Death by Hanging (1968) he portrayed the Japanese from the perspective of victims of racism, specifically Koreans. In Furyo , on the other hand, he took the standpoint of the white prisoners of war and thereby accepted "the hegemonic and hierarchical view that classifies nations and races according to the measure of progress and development."


At its premiere in Cannes, the film took part in the competition for the Palme d'Or without result . Ryuichi Sakamoto won the 1984 BAFTA Awards in the Best Music category . The National Board of Review honored Tom Conti for Furyo - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Ruben, Ruben 1983 as Best Actor in a Lead .

The film won the Japanese National Film Awards in 1984 as Most Popular Film and was nominated in five other categories: Best Film , Best Director , Best Supporting Actor ( Takeshi Kitano ), Best Music and Best Production Design . At the Kinema Jumpō Awards 1984, the film received the audience award. At the Mainichi film competition in 1984, Furyo received awards in the categories of best film , best director , best screenplay , best supporting actor (Takeshi Kitano) and best music .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Beverley Bare Buehrer: Japanese films. A filmography and commentary, 1921-1989 . McFarland & Company, Jefferson NC 1990, ISBN 0-89950-458-2 , p. 246
  2. Beverley Bare Buehrer: Japanese films. A filmography and commentary, 1921-1989 . Chicago / London 1992, cit. in: pp. 296-297
  3. a b Nagisa Ōshima in an interview, quoted in in: Friends of the Deutsche Kinemathek (ed.): Films from Japan , 1993, ISBN 3-927876-08-9 , p. 297
  4. Ryūichi Sakamoto in: Mark Russell, James Young: Film arts: film music . Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-499-61143-0 , p. 178
  5. a b c d Buehrer 1990, p. 247
  6. a b Maureen Turim: The Films of Nagisa Oshima. University of California Press, Berkeley 1998, ISBN 0-520-20665-7 , p. 170
  7. Turim 1998, p. 171
  8. Turim 1998, pp. 170-171
  9. Turim 1998, p. 182
  10. ^ A b c d Fischer Film Almanach 1984: Furyo - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-596-23694-0 , pp. 69-70
  11. a b c Michael Schwarze: Rauchzeichen aus dem Haus des Schreckens , in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , May 13, 1983
  12. a b c Urs Jaeggi: dismantling enemy images, call for reflection , in: Zoom , No. 11/1983, pp. 6-7
  13. a b Urs Jenny: Südseealpträume im Bunker , in: Der Spiegel , No. 20 of May 16, 1983, pp. 219–223
  14. Turim 1998, p. 177
  15. Turim 1998, p. 173
  16. ^ Donald Richie: A hundred years of Japanese film . Kodansha International, Tokyo 2001, ISBN 4-7700-2682-X , p. 274
  17. Turim 1998, pp. 174 and 176
  18. according to insidekino.com ; German start date also in Fischer Film Almanach 1984, p. 69
  19. List of publications and a sectional report on OFDb
  20. Wolfram Schütte in: Frankfurter Rundschau , May 14, 1983
  21. ^ J. Fast: Furyo - Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence . In: film-dienst , No. 24/1983
  22. Die Zeit , December 9, 1983, short review not signed: In the cinema
  23. Turim 1998, p. 168
  24. Masao Miyoshi: Off center: Power and culture relations between Japan and the United States , Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1991, quoted. in: Eric Cazdyn: The flash of capital: Film and geopolitics in Japan , Duke University Press, Durham & London 2002, ISBN 0-8223-2912-3 , p. 83
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 17, 2010 .