Last night I stayed up to watch Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and decided that it is an extraordinarily odd film.
For a film set in a WW2 Japanese PoW camp it captures the mid-1980s astonishingly well (ever wondered why David Lean didn’t opt for an 80s Japanese soft pop soundtrack to The Bridge on the River Kwai…?) The story meanders along aimlessly like a Ben Brafman-led improvised narrative crossbred with the Gay Samurai revue. The Japanese characters are marginally less plausible than Andrew Ormerod’s AEME character Mr Ocinowa (who was, I should point out, a puppet); David Bowie gives a mannered performance (though it’s not nearly as awful as Phil Stott would have you believe); Tom Conti, on the other hand, is rather good.
But it’s all terribly uninvolving, until quite some way into the film a beautifully still and bravely lengthy single shot of Tom Conti in solitary confinement allows his performance to grip the film without interruption. We then cut to Bowie, also in confinement, leading into a surreal flashback sequence where the word “mannered” ceases to be adequate to describe what Bowie’s doing – though for a 30-something he is disturbingly persuasive as a public schoolboy. And this subplot, involving Bowie’s younger brother, is strangely haunting and powerful.
But it’s all very odd. Worth losing sleep for, I think – but very odd.