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Ghost in the Shell (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

July 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Considering the other not-so-good Hollywood-made anime live-action film adaptations, one can’t deny that “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the better adaptations from an anime or manga series.  The film just misses the mark of being a wonderful, memorable film and feels like a simplified, less complex version of the original storyline and a film with untapped potential.  But there is always room for improvement if a sequel does happen in the future.

Images courtesy of © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Ghost in the Shell

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2017

DURATION: 126 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p 4K Ultra High Definition, English Dolby Atmos, French, Spanish, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese

COMPANY: Paramount

RATED: PG-13 (For Intense Sequences of Sci-fi Violence, Suggestive Content and Some Disturbing Images)

RELEASE DATE: July 25, 2017


Based on the comic “The Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow

Directed by Rupert Sanders

Screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger

Producer: Ari Arad, Michael Costigan, Steven PAul

Co-Producer: Holly Bario, Jane Nerlinger Evans, Maki Terashima-Furuta

Executive Producer: Tetsuya Fujimura, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Yoshinobu Noma, Jeffrey Silver

Music by Lorne Balfe, Clint Mansell

Cinematography by Jess Hall

Edited by Billy Rich, Neil Smith

Casting by Lucy Vevan, Liz Mullane, Miranda Rivers

Production Design by Jan Roelfs

Art Direction by Matt Austin, Simon Bright, Leri Greer, Miro Harre, Ben Hawker, Richard L. Johnson, Agata Maliauka, Andy McLaren, Erik Polczwartek, Brad Ricker, Ken Turner

Set Decoration by Greg Cokerill, Elli Griff, Craig Poll, Calvin Tsoi, Brana Rosenfeld, Kitt Van Der Kidd

Costume Design by Kurt and Bart


Starring:

Scarlett Johansson as Major

Pilou Asbaek as Batou

Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki

Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet

Michael Pitt as Kuze

Chin Han as Togusa

Danusia Samal as Ladriya

Lasarus Ratuere as Ishikawa

Yutaka Izumihara as Saito

Tawanda Manyimo as Borma

Peter Ferdinando as Cutter

Anamaria Marinca as Dr. Dahlin


Set in a world where people are enhanced with technology, GHOST IN THE SHELL follows Major (Scarlett Johansson), who believes she was rescued from near death. The first of her kind, Major is a human mind inside an artificial body designed to fight the war against cyber-crime. While investigating a dangerous criminal, Major makes a shocking discovery – the corporation that created her lied about her past life in order to control her. Unsure what to believe, Major will stop at nothing to unravel the mystery of her true identity and exact revenge against the corporation she was built to serve.


The year 1989 and Masamune Shirow would create his manga “Ghost in the Shell”.

By 1995, an animated film was released and would become a box office hit in Japan, would achieve success via video retail and would also receive critical acclaim worldwide.  So much that even filmmaker James Cameron cited the film as a source of inspiration, saying “The first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence”.

While considered complex and too some as cerebral, the popularity of the first film would lead to more animated films, animated series, video games and books.

And in 2008, DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg would acquire the rights to produce a live-action film adaptation of the original manga and in 2017, the film would be released in theaters, earning over $169 million in the box office.

The film is directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) and would be co-written by Jamie Moss (“Safe House 2”, “Street Kings”), William Wheeler (“Queen of Katwe”, “The Hoax”) and Ehren Kruhger (“Transformers” films, “The Ring”).

The film stars Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation”, “The Avengers”, “Lucy”), Pilou Asbaek (“Lucy”, “Hijacking”, “A War”), Takeshi Kitano (“Brother”, “The Blind Swordsman/Zatoichi”, “Fireworks”), Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”, “Three Colors: Blue”, “Cache”, “Godzilla”), Michael Pitt (“Seven Psychopaths”, “I Origins”), Chin Han (“The Dark Knight”, “Contagion”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Danusia Samal (“Tyrant”, “Boom”) and Peter Ferdinando (“Tony”, “Starred Up”).

And now, the film will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Paramount.

The film begins with a woman being wheeled in via a stretcher and her brain being removed and inserted in a mechanical body (shell) at Hanka Robotics, the world’s leading developer of augmentative technology.

And the first experimented is made to integrate a human brain versus an AI, and the results on Mira Killian (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) is a success.  While Dr. Ouelet (portrayed by Juliette Binoche) is thrilled that the experiment had worked, Hanka CEO Cutter (portrayed by Peter Ferdinando) wants to use her immediately as a soldier/counter-terrorism operative.

Dr. Ouelet tells Mira that she was involved in an accident and that her body was too damaged but they were able to rescue her brain.  She was also told that her parents have passed away.

Fastforward a year later and Mira is now a “Major” in the anti-terrorist bureau, Section 9, and she and her fellow operatives Batou (portrayed by Pilou Asbaek) and Togusa (portrayed by Chin Han) working under their boss, Chief Daisuke Aramaki (portrayed by Takeshi Kitano) are trying to prevent a terrorist attack on a Hanka business conference.

As the terrorists attack, Major acts on her own despite her Chief telling her not to to and in the process, she destroys a rogue geisha robot who ends up murdering her hostage.  After Major destroys the geisha robot, a message is given directly to her.

As Major goes for rehabilitation and medication, she tells Dr. Ouelet that she is experiencing hallucinations and that she doesn’t remember her past.

Wanting to know why the geisha robot gave her a message, she tells her partner Batou that she will be diving into the geisha robot and when she does, she knows she is breaking protocol.  But wanting to find answers, she finds out that the robot was hacked by a mysterious individual known as Kuze and Kuze tries to do a reverse hack.

As Major starts to be affected by the reverse hack, Batou has her disconnected and Major was able to extract information that leads her to a Yakuza nightclub.

As Major and Batou continue to investigate, what will they find out about this mysterious individual known as Kuze and because of her belligerence of not following orders, will she be deprogrammed?


VIDEO:

“Ghost in the Shell” receives its first 4K Ultra HD K Ultra HD release and is presented in 2160p Ultra High Definition.

While the setting is in the future, the film reflects that with a lot of CG created buildings and virtual/holographic signs.  For the most part, closeups show great detail and the overall look of the film is cool.  Combining realistic scenes with a lot of CG, the two are able to coexist with great efficacy.

For the most part, the film looks fantastic in 4K Ultra HD.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Lossless audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in English Dolby Atmos, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English audio description.

Considering that this sci-fi action film contains a lot of action sequences, this lossless soundtrack is quite impressive. Surround channels and LFE are well-utilized during the high actions sequences.  And may it be weapon shots to glass shattering, “Ghost in the Shell” sounds magnificent.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ghost in the Shell” on 4K Ultra HD comes with the following special features:

  • Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell – (30:05) A featurette on the making of “Ghost in the Shell” and bringing the popular manga to film and how it took nine years to develop.
  • Section 9: Cyber Defenders – (11:28) A featurette about the anti-terrorist unit, Section 9.  Interviews with the cast who are members of Section 9.
  • Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy – (10:35) A featurette with cast and crew discussing the quickly changing technology and the integration of human/technology.

EXTRAS:

“Ghost in the Shell” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


Having loved the animated film “Ghost in the Shell”, I have seen the manga/film evolve as a TV series, animated film, video games and literally captivate people all over the world.

So, when the film was announced that there would be a live-action film starring Scarlett Johansson, as beloved as they are too fans, they are also the harshest critics.

Could a live-action film due the manga/animated film justice?  Will the casting of Scarlett Johansson instead of an Asian actress hurt the film?

There are a lot of things that the film has been criticized and as a fan of “Ghost in the Shell”, you can see this film as being half empty and half full.

For one, I give the creators of the film credit for creating this CG landcape of a futuristic megalopolis.  The film does go into why the character of Major is not Asian.

But there are a few concessions that I can understand why the producers had to do it.  For example, the animated film, while awesome as it is, not everyone is able to follow it.  Many found it too smart, too cerebral for their own tastes, so in order to make money and make this film accessible to the public, the film can’t be too complex.

It’s important to note that in Japan, the film did much better than the original 1995 anime film, they also embraced Scarlett Johansson as the main protagonist.  Having watched many anime live-action film adaptations, believe it or not, “Ghost in the Shell” is probably one of the better adaptations from Hollywood.  You have star power in this film with Johannson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, to name a few and the acting is very good.  The visual effects are phenomenal.

Now compare this to “Dragon Ball: Evolution”, “The Guyver”, “Fist of the North Star”, “Speed Racer”. Aside from “Edge of Tomorrow”, the majority of Hollywood live-action film adaptations of popular anime and manga series have led to crap.  And “Ghost in the Shell” is no doubt much better than those films I have mentioned.

In some ways, I like to think as those years of crappy anime film adaptations similar to where Marvel Comics live-action films used to be in the ’80s and ’90s.  Until Marvel was able to strike gold with “Spider-Man”, “X-Men” and later with “The Avengers”, “Iron Man” and the plethora of superhero films that are doing wonderfully in the box office, anime film adaptations are starting to show an improvement in quality and that’s important.

In Japan, the country is experiencing a boom of anime to live-action film adaptations with “Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Gintama”, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures” starting to generate hype in 2017, people are fully aware of what happens when the film is in the hands of a director who takes the film with a different approach (ie. the two “Attack on Titan” live-action films).

I tend to see the future being bright for anime to live-action films in the future but while Japanese audiences are more accepting, outside of Japan, it’s a different story.  With social media and voices becoming more loud about Hollywood casting, at least the writing does find a way to make sense of Scarlett Johansson’s character.

If anything, I see “Ghost in the Shell” a live-action film that is on the lighter side of storytelling.  Unfortunately, the lighter side of storytelling is what hurts the film because aside from Major and Batou and of course, Kitano as Aramaki is a major win for the film, the problem is the development of the characters and motivations in the live-action film.

I don’t think the film’s antagonist was written all that well and if anything, I found Michael Carmen Pitt’s character, Kuze, to be forgetful.  When Major and Kuze come across each other, I didn’t care for Kuze’s character one bit even after the reveal is made.

I will give the producers and director Rupert Sanders credit for what they were able to accomplish.  The film looks great, visual effects were fantastic, the film featured solid acting but is hurt by its other characters and lack of a gripping storyline.

But considering the other not-so-good Hollywood-made anime live-action film adaptations, one can’t deny that “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the better adaptations from an anime or manga series.  The film just misses the mark of being a wonderful, memorable film and feels like a simplified, less complex version of the original storyline and a film with untapped potential.  But there is always room for improvement if a sequel does happen in the future.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #535 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The more I watch this film, I come away watching it and discovering something new.  “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” is a much different film compared to Oshima’s more rebellious films that he is known for.  But if you give it a chance, you can find its story quite deep.  And to make this latest release of the film worth the while for the cineaste, The Criterion Collection has done cinema fans a big favor by including special features that really enhances your appreciation of the film.  Definitely recommended!

Image courtesy of © HanWay Films Limited. 2010 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #535

YEAR OF FILM: 1983

DURATION: 123 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 Aspect Ratio), Color, In English and Japanese with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/Les Films Du Jeudi/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

Based on the Book “The Seed and The Sower” by Laurens Van der Post

Directed by Nagisa Oshima

Screenplay by Nagisa Oshima, Paul Mayersberg

Executive Producer: Terry Glinwood, Masato Hara, Geoffrey Nethercott, Eiko Oshima

Associate Producer: Joyce Herlihy, Larry Parr

Producer: Jeremy Thomas

Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto

Cinematography by Toichiro Narushima

Edited by Tomoyo Oshima

Production Design by Jusho Toda

Art Direction by Andrew Sanders

Starring:

David Bowie as Maj. Jack “Strafer” Celliers

Tom Conti as Col. John Lawrence

Ryuichi Sakamoto as Capt. Yonoi

Takeshi Kitano as Sgt. Gengo Hara

Jack Thompson as Group Capt. Hicksley

Johnny Okura as KAnemoto

Alistair Browning as De Jong

James Malcolm as Celliers’ Brother

Chris Broun as Celliers aged 12

Yuya Uchida as Commandant of Military Prison

Ryunosuke Kaneda as President of the Court

Takashi Naito as Lt. Iwata

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.

He is known as one of Japan’s most controversial but also highly respected director, his name is Nagisa Oshima, a filmmaker who shocked Japan with his films in the ’60s and achieved notoriety with his unsimulated sex film “In the Realm of Senses” and followed up with another controversial film with “Empire of Passion” (1978).

One of the founders of the Japanese New Wave, Oshima was known for taking on Japanese taboos and creating films against the status quo and in 1983, Nagisa Oshima, now residing in France, went to work on his film “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”, a historical war film loosely based on the novel “The Seed and The Sower” by Laurens Van der Post and Laurens’ experience as British soldier who surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 and was a prisoner of war for several years and saw how soldiers were treated by the Japanese but how he was able to stay alive due to his ability to speak Japanese.

But Nagase Oshima has always had a different perspective towards Japanese culture and for Nagashima, this was a chance to explore men’s attitudes in POW camp but to also explore perspectives of men from two different worlds and the consequences of war. Because “The Bridge on the River Kwai” was released in 1957 and dealt with British prisoners of war, both Oshima and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg (“The Man Who Fell to Earth”, “Eureka”, “The Last Samurai”) wanted to make things different with this film and other POW war films.  “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” would eventually be nominated for a Golden Palm at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for six Japanese Academy Awards and also a winner of a BAFTA Award for “Best Score”.  And now “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” has been given the Criterion Collection treatment and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD.

The film revolves around four men at the camp.  Liutenant Colonel John Lawrence (played by Tom Conti, “Deadline”, “The Wright Verdicts”) is a British officer who speaks Japanese and because of that, he is like the spokesperson to the British POW’s and communicates with both Captain Yonoi (played by popular musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, “The Last Emperor”, “Appleseed”, “Wings of Honneamise”) and Sgt. Hara (played by Takeshi Kitano, “Brother”, “Zatoichi”, Sonatine”, “Johnny Mnemonic”).

Captain Yonoi follows the Bushido code and a man who feels guilt because while he was stationed in Manchuria, he was not in Tokyo where his Army comrades were executed after a military coup d’état.  Sgt. Hara is a man who seems to have a sadistic side to him but on Christmas Day, has a side to him where he becomes compassionate.   For Hara, he is very Japanese in the sense that one would not be held as a POW and would commit sepuku (a Japanese ritual suicide, dying with honor) rather than give the enemy a chance to feel they have won.

For Hara, he tries to understand the British soldiers motivation and  Lt. Col. Lawrence explains to him that he wants to survive for a chance to win against enemy.  No one wants to die if they have a chance to live and both men learn about each other’s perspective of life as soldiers.

Meanwhile, a new POW is brought into the camp.  Major Jack “Strafer” Celliers (played by David Bowie, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, “Labyrinth”), a rebellious prisoner who has caught the attention of Captain Yonoi.  Celliers is also a man burdened by guilt as his younger brother was always beaten up and humiliated by other kids (because the younger brother had a hunchback) and did nothing to stop it.  So, in many ways, Celliers wants to help his fellow people, may it be to secretly feed them (when they are sentenced by Yonoi to fast, after a death of one of their soldiers), even if it means getting himself into major trouble.

The other Japanese soldiers start to notice how Yonoi is captivated by Celliers (almost like a homoerotic fixation on the man) which leads to one of the soldiers planning to kill Celliers in order for their captain not to lose honor and from that moment, Yonoi knows that his dedication to the Bushido code and running the camp with an iron fist is starting to weaken due to his emotional feelings that he has towards Celliers, prompting him to wanting to have one of the soldiers killed… Lt. Col. Lawrence for a crime he did not commit.

VIDEO:

“Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #535” is presented in 1080p High Definition and in color.  The Criterion Collection version is the best looking version of the film to date.  More grain, colors look very good and even vibrant at times.  You can see the stubble on David Bowie’s chin, you can see more detail on the wood surfaces, the grain on the sand and even the beads of sweat going down the soldier’s faces.  Even during the darker portions of the film you can see a good amount of detail.  There are probably some parts of the film in which “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” does look its age but for the most part, this 27-year-old film looks great on Blu-ray.

According to the Criterion Collection, the new HD digital transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive scanned in 2K resolution on a Spirit Datacine 4K machine at Midnight Transfer, London.  2K color correction was done using Assimilate’s Scratch system, and dirt and scratch removal was done using Pixel Farm’s PFClean system at Cinelmage, London.  This corrected data was output to high-definition tape at On Sight, London.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for a small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” is presented in Japanese and English stereo with English subtitles.  Dialogue is crisp and clear and music also comes clear through the front channels.  It is important for people to know that the Japanese dialogue is subtitled but when the Japanese talent are speaking English, there are no subtitles which is appropriate.  But for some people who have difficulty understanding certain dialogue from the Japanese talent, there are no English subtitles.

The film is presented in its original stereo surround format, the soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm Dolby LT/RT magnetic audio track at Sync Sound Audio, London.  Pops, crackle, hiss and hum were reduced with an array of audio restoration techniques.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #535” comes with the following special features:

  • The Oshima Gang – (29:35) A behind-the-scenes featurette produced in 1983 with actors David Bowie and Tom Contie, author Laurens van der Post, director Nagisa OShima and producer Jeremy Thomas.
  • On the Screenplay – (11:05) The Criterion Collection interviews screenwriter Paul Mayersberg in regards to the development and screenplay of “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and the work of Nagisa Oshima.
  • On Location – (40:00) Interviews with actors Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto and producer Jeremy Thomas reminiscing of their experience on the set of “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”.
  • On the Music – (18:09) The Criterion Collection interviews actor and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto who talks about the score for “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”.
  • Hasten Slowly – (55:32) A 1996 documentary which was produced and directed by Mickey Lemle which explores the spiritual journey of Afrikaner author Sir Laurens van der Post (1906-1996) who  wrote “The Seed and the Sower”.  The autobiographical novel was the basis for “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”.
  • Trailer – (3:13) The original theatrical trailer for “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”.

EXTRAS:

  • 30-Page Booklet– The booklet features “Lawrence of Shinjuku” by Chuck Stephens, an interview with filmmaker Nagisa Oshima titled “Oshima: Sex, Militarism and Empire” by film scholar Tadao Saito right before the film was promoted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983 and a ten question interview between Switch Magazine and Takeshi Kitano.

“Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” is one of those films that stays with you.  You don’t remember it so much as a war film, but a film about the relationship of man and their differences.

During my trips to Japan during the Winter, you can hear the theme song to this film still being played on the loudspeaker and for nearly three decades, there are many times where I would be asked by Japanese friends if I have ever watched the film.   There is always an allure towards this film by Japanese and also to those who have had the opportunity to watch it and for me, each time I have watched this film, I have come away watching it and discovering something new each time.  And with this latest experience, because of the awesome special features that come with this Criterion Collection release, not only does it answer some questions I have had of this film but it also enhanced my appreciation of this Oshima classic.

For those who are used to Oshima’s Brechtian style of filmmaking, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” was a film that proved to be baffling to those who viewed it.   Afterall, one can’t expect another “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and although based on a book, for those who are familiar with Oshima’s work will know that he’s not going to follow things as exactly what was on the pages of Laurens Van der Post’s “The Seed and The Sower”.  We expect some sort of rebelliousness from Oshima and if anything, for him to take on a POW film is quite interesting.

I definitely admire director Nagisa Oshima for not following the path of other filmmakers when it comes to prisoner of war films.  Not to say that these films are cliche but when you have Oshima working on the film, you’re expecting some type of rebelliousness on his part, and also expecting him not to follow the traditional route of filmmaking and storytelling.

As we have learned from Nagisa Oshima from films such as “In the Realm of Senses”, “Empire of Passion” and even his sixties films, one expects some type of rebellious trait that somehow exposes Japanese culture in a non-traditional way and in “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”, the subject matter is not as simplistic of two different cultures that see their own life in a different manner, nor is it about one side being ominous or correct. It’s about understanding one’s own value of life and in that rare moment, having that ability to see things on the other side.

There are people who tend to focus on the homoerotic attraction of Captain Yonoi towards Cellier but for me, I saw this as part of Oshima’s rebelliousness.   Simply because most filmmakers who have created films on the samurai have always focused on man.  May it be the corruption, the power, the protectiveness or the honor of men but I saw Yonoi’s Bushido-believing character as a man that was no different as samurai in the early ages who partook in nanshoku (male love) as these were depicted even in “Genji Monogatari” (Tale of Genji).  I started to learn more about this three years ago because it was rather interesting that this was a side of “samurai” culture that is known but never shown on film.  But when you think about the situation of the samurai’s of being around men, rarely around women, can this be the case with Captain Yonoi in “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”?  Was this that rebellious side of Oshima by cleverly including that homoerotic tension in the film?  Because even for the soldiers, even honor amongst men, especially warriors, if it happened then, Japanese filmmakers never touched upon that subject.  Samurai films or even wartime films of Japanese were always depicted showing strong men who had honor.  So, this was the latest that I’ve got out of the film, watching it once again.  Another layer peeled, and once again, something new to discover.  Or perhaps, I am over-analyzing.

But this was how I looked at Yonoi’s fascination of Cellier.  Like many samurai’s who were in areas where there weren’t many women at all and only men, I saw Yonoi as a man who saw something within Cellier’s.  Some writers say it was a “kindred spirit” but I looked at it as more as a man who was touched by another’ man’s sincerity, his honor of wanting to help people, his honor of submitting himself to become a prisoner of war but not afraid to die.  Call Yonoi fascinated, maybe he was gay but “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” doesn’t need to get into the details of that.  But it makes you wonder how Captain Yonoi was the only soldier who had makeup around his face.  His eyes with the eyeliner, blush on the cheeks.  Why would Oshima want that with only Yonoi and not the other Japanese soldiers?  To make him stand out?  To make him appear more feminine?

It’s important for me to say that by mentioning all this, for the first-time viewer, by no means is this a gay film.  “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” is pretty much a film about the relationship of man and the varying perspectives, especially as we see how the Japanese and British soldiers really have a difficult time understanding each other.  But for Yonoi, he is a man of guilt and somehow he felt that same guilt within Cellier’s.

There is also another theme that people who are familiar with Japanese culture (or cinema) will pick up on and that is the feeling of honor.  Dying with honor, serving your country with honor and I felt that Oshima said it best when describing Yonoi’s position of heading a prison camp.  Oshima said (in the interview included inside the Criterion booklet), “heading a prison camp was a humiliating assignment to a Japanese officer’s way of thinking.”  Yonoi’s guilt of not dying alongside his comrades has affected him and having him watch over P.O.W.’s was not making him feel any better as well.  Yonoi is a man of honor and perhaps that is what he saw inside Cellier’s and by then, he would eventually be consumed by his charm.

This is a film that may seem simplistic on the outside but can we classify different human perspectives as simplistic when it is rather complex?  The British soldiers view the Japanese as inhumane and lack honor for how they treat the soldiers but at the same time, the Japanese are in awe of how men can submit themselves to becoming an enemy’s prisoner of war.  The Japanese way is dying with honor.  Lawrence tells Sgt. Hara that for him and his men, it’s about living and being given another chance to fight again.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?

So, I really appreciate how Oshima crafted this film because I enjoyed it…but do I call it a masterpiece?

Roger Ebert wrote in his review at the Chicago Sun-Times:

It’s awkward, not because of the subject matter, but because of the contrasting acting styles. Here are two men trying to communicate in a touchy area and they behave as if they’re from different planets. The overstatement in the Japanese acting ruins the scene.

When I first watched “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” many years ago, I felt the same way.  We know that there are differences in acting style and especially when you try to bring in both worlds together, sometimes they don’t mesh as well.  And I have to admit that when I see Asian talent having to speak (or sing) a song that is not of their native tongue, the results are rather subjective and for me, it works or it doesn’t.  I felt that Takeshi Kitano did a magnificent job especially with the final scene and him delivering the film’s title in his final words but things were good but not great when it came to Yonoi and Bowie.

I know.for some, what kind of movie would “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” have been if it was in the hands of another filmmaker? Or what was the true experience that the real Lawrence, or in this case Laurens had when he was in the POW camp?  What we do know from Laurens Van der Post’s novel “The Seed and The Sower”, Post was a man who embraced the Japanese language and the people when he stayed in Japan.  He was amazed of how in tune the Japanese were to their own environment and at the time, seeing Japanese who have not been in contact with people not of their own culture.  But during war time, he saw how these Japanese that he adored, became different and he saw the hostilities that transpired at the prison camp to the last moment when the Japanese soldiers just switched, as if someone turned the power off and the Japanese accepted their defeat.  There is more to this story which is further explained in the “Hasten Slowly” documentary but I felt that it was simply fantastic that the Criterion Collection added this feature.

And as for this Blu-ray release of “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”, I felt the special features enhanced my appreciation of the film.  And no, these are not special features that last for five minutes long, these are special features that have a lot of information which explains the mindset of the filmmaker and the talent and it was great to watch this and to see “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” in new light.

I’ve been asked if this film is a masterpiece of Nagisa Oshima and although I do feel the word “masterpiece” is starting to become overused when describe a famous filmmaker’s oeuvre and in Oshima’s case, there are far too many films that I did enjoy but I do feel that this film was much more accessible to the viewer. For me, each time I view this film, I come away with some different as time goes by and I start to see things in a much more different light and I suppose that is why I enjoy this film so much is because it’s simple but yet has a complexity that one can easily interpret this film in a variety of ways.  And you’ll either love it or you don’t.

I felt that “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” was a much more entertaining experience this time around and it is because The Criterion Collection had included special features in which we can hear the writer Paul Mayersberg give his own interpretation about the film and working with Oshima, we also get to hear about Bowie, Conti, Sakamoto and Kitano’s impression of the film and get their interpretation of the film as well.   And to finally hear from Laurens Van der Post and his fellow soldiers describe their experiences at the POW camp was impressive and heartbreaking as well.

Overall, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” is one of those films that people will find something deep and complex within its layers or come away feeling like it’s a film that missed its true potential of not following Van der Post’s book and showing a more dramatic approach of the life of the POW.  So, I have no doubt that this film will be subjective towards the viewer.  But if you enjoyed the film before or are the curious Criterion Collection fan who is ready to blind-buy “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #535”, you won’t be disappointed.  This is a solid release and is definitely recommended!

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