In 1983, rock star David Bowie starred in two major films: as part of the love-triangle vampire drama with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in Tony Scott’s The Hunger, and as Major Jack Celliers in Nagisa Oshima’s prisoner-of-war film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.
Bowie‘s meticulous performance as the New Zealand officer confined to a Japanese PoW camp during WWII is consistently intriguing.
With an evocative score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, this powerful epic was based on the experiences of Sir Laurens van der Post in a Japanese camp during the Second World War.
Van der Post’s memoirs were adapted into a screenplay by Paul Mayersberg, who had also written The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), though it was Oshima who selected Bowie for the lead role, after being impressed by the star’s stage turn in The Elephant Man.
The film, however, is uneven and often unnecessarily harsh and gory. It tries to explore the differences and similarities of Western and Oriental cultures – a sort of intellectual version of Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – but it pulls in so many directions at once that it fails to achieve coherence.
Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers
Colonel John Lawrence
Sergeant Gengo Hara
Group Captain Hicksley
Jack Celliers, aged 12