Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Japanese: Senjō no Merī Kurisumasu (戦場のメリークリスマス?, "Merry Christmas on the Battlefield"), also known in many European editions as Furyo (俘虜, Japanese for "prisoner of war")) is a 1983 British-Japanese drama film directed by Nagisa Oshima, produced by Jeremy Thomas and starring David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano and Jack Thompson.
The film deals with the relationships among four men in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War — Major Jack Celliers, a rebellious New Zealander with a guilty secret from his youth; Captain Yonoi, the young camp commandant; Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Conti), a British officer who has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese fluently; and Sergeant Hara who is seemingly brutal and yet humane in some ways and with whom Lawrence develops a peculiar friendship.
Bowie plays Major Jack Celliers, a so-called soldier’s soldier, who comes to a POW camp in Java, in Indonesia in 1942. The titular Mr. Lawrence is Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence, played by Tom Conti, who is already a prisoner in the camp. He is unique there in that he speaks Japanese and has an understanding of Japanese culture, even if all their customs don’t sit too well with him.
That trip is to attend the trial of Colonel Celliers, who had been performing guerilla actions until his surrender to the Japanese when they threatened to kill innocent villagers. The Japanese soldiers officiating at the trial are confused by Celliers’s surrender and agree that he should be put to death, but Captain Yonoi is clearly taken with the defiant British man. A mock execution is staged and Celliers is taken to the POW camp instead.