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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Umbrella) (1983)

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Umbrella) (1983)

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Released 31-Mar-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio
Featurette-The Oshima Gang (29:36)
Interviews-Crew-Interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto (11:02)
Interviews-Crew-Interview with Jeremy Thomas (17:51)
Featurette-Excert from 'Scenes at the Sea' (3:11)
Theatrical Trailer-Full Frame (3:04)
Theatrical Trailer-Umbrella Trailers
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 118:13
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Nagisa Oshima

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring David Bowie
Tom Conti
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Takeshi Kitano
Jack Thompson
Johnny Okura
Alistair Browning
James Malcolm
Chris Broun
Yuya Uchida
Ryunosuke Kaneda
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music Ryuichi Sakamoto

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"There are times when victory is very hard to take."

Directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida)), the WWII POW drama Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, is probably most well known for it's eclectic cast;

Tom Conti starred as Col. John Lawrence, Takeshi Kitano (in his first dramatic role) as Sergeant Hara, musician Ryűichi Sakamoto as Capt. Yonoi and musician David Bowie as Maj. Jack 'Strafer' Celliers.

The film centers on Col. John Lawrence, the bilingual Allied liaison officer, in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the East Indies, run by the youthful and conservative Capt. Yonoi.

In the midst of the brutality and madness of war, Col. John Lawrence has formed a peculiar friendship with Sergeant Hara, a brutal yet amiable camp guard. The two characters, share a genuine (and often humorous) fascination with one another, as they cannot understand one another's code of conduct, but try to find a common ground. Likewise Capt. Yonoi instantly develops a homoerotic fixation with the latest arrival to the prison camp, Maj. Jack 'Strafer' Celliers. Capt. Yonoi saves Celliers from the firing squad and asks Lawrence to look after the psychologically and physically tortured British solider. However when Celliers is returned to health, the guards view the individualist soldier as the devil reincarnated, as his rebellious actions disturb the social structure of the camp and subsequently force Capt. Yonoi to confront his conflicted feelings for him.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence is about the consequences of war and in particular, the clash of cultures, as the British view the Japanese with contempt, particularly through the eyes of Group Capt. Hicksley, (portrayed by Jack Thompson), who views Lawrence's association's with both Hara and Capt. Yonoi as betrayal. Equally the Japanese view the captured British soldiers as shamed, as they would rather fall into the hands of their enemies than submit to Seppuku and die with honour .

This is a well-made POW drama, and remarkably twenty-five years later, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence still remains as powerful as it was on release. The film features fine performances, particularly from Kitano (who steals every scene he's in) and Conti, who learnt his Japanese dialogue phonetically. Both Sakamoto and Bowie are equally impressive as their 'rock star' status' immediately instil a national identity and stature within their respective characters, who each share a guilty past. Many individual scenes of the film are simply remarkable and unforgettable.

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Transfer Quality


The transfer which appears on this disc (which is the same as the Optimum R2 UK release) is in a 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced frame. Note the negative ratio of the film is 1.50:1 and the 35mm reproduction prints were produced in 1.85:1.

While the colour scheme is muted (most likely the intended colour scheme) and telecine wobble is moderately perceptible throughout the feature film, overall this remains an impressive transfer for a film of it's age.

The transfer was encoded on a dual-layer disc at the average bitrate of 4.51 Mb/s. There is visible grain on the print but thankfully no significant compression artefacts as the scenes set at night remain clear. However at times the image appears soft, and aliasing artefacts were perceptible on window frames (21:42) and on the door frames (39:35).

The English subtitles for the Japanese dialogue are burnt onto the print in a clear white font. There are no additional subtitle options available.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The original 2.0 Dolby Digital track is error free. Dialogue is central to the film and remains clear, and while there is limited surround sound activity, the soundtrack is still effective.

The celebrated electronic and orchestral score of the film by Ryűichi Sakamoto, became significant in it's own right as the main theme of the film was released with vocals by David Sylvian, as Forbidden Colours. The score is incredibly significant to the film as it plays upon the pivotal thematic concerns of the film - forbidden love and the culture clash. The score at first is quite whimsical, particularly upon the initial courtroom meeting between Capt. Yonoi and Maj. Jack Celliers, but then soon develops into a lush melodramatic theme as the relationships between the characters develop.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Animation and Audio

The Main Menu is a still of the cover-art, with various scenes from the film in the background, accompanied by a section Sakamoto's memorable score. There are 16 scene selection options, and access to the various extra features.

The Oshima Gang

A half-hour vintage making of with informative interviews with Tom Conti, David Bowie, producer Jeremy Thomas, and Laurens Van der Post, author of The Seed and the Sower, the autobiographical novel on which the film was based on. Also included is footage from the 1983 Cannes Film Festival press conference. (Sourced from VHS, presented in 4:3 Full Screen)

An Interview with Ryűichi Sakamoto

In a recent interview conducted in English, Sakamoto speaks in length about his performance and composing the score. (1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced)

An Interview with Jeremy Thomas

A retrospective interview with the significant producer who talks about the location of the film, working with Nagisa Oshima, casting David Bowie, Tom Conti's Japanese dialogue and Ryűichi Sakamoto's score and performance. (1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced)

An Excerpt from 'Scenes at the Sea' - The Life and Cinema of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano

A short excerpt from the 2000 Channel 4 program, covering Kitano's involvement in the film and the reception the actor received for his first dramatic role. The full 48 minute documentary is available on the R2 UK DVD of Brother (1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced).

Theatrical Trailer (4:3 Full Screen)

Umbrella Trailers

Shout at the Devil (1976) (16x9 enhanced)

My Brother Jack (2001) (4:3 Full Screen)

Farewell to the King (1989) (4:3 Full Screen)

Just A Gigolo (1979) (4:3 Full Screen)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The R4 Umbrella release is identical to the Optimum R2 UK Special Collector's edition release (bar the Umbrella trailers)


Despite some flaws evident in the transfer, all-round this is a great release of a fine film with some informative vintage and recently filmed extra feature content.

Also it is worth the upgrade, considering the previous Magna R4 DVD release of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, was not 16x9 enhanced and featured no additional extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Vanessa Appassamy (Biography)
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOPPO DV-980H, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE 700. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DSP-A595a - 5.1 DTS
Speakers(Front) DB Dynamics Polaris AC688F loudspeakers,(Centre) DB Dynamics Polaris Mk3 Model CC030,(Rear) Polaris Mk3 Model SSD425,(Subwoofer) Jensen JPS12

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