‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ comes to UK Region B locked Blu-ray with a somewhat variable looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The opening sequence crawls with grain, lacks contrast and has been brightened just a tad too much to allow solid blacks in the shadows. Bear in mind this sequence has superimposed titles and the grain is explained (due to duping). Coming out of the titles, sharpness improves but the slightly wound up brightness continues and there’s a lack of shadow detail in the trees during the ‘suicide’ scene on the lawn. Fine grain is also quite noticeable throughout, particularly on light backgrounds – but hey, it was shot on 35mm film.
Overall, it’s fairly acceptable but it just doesn’t look wonderful and lacks the High Def bite we’re used to. Contrast is a little limp wristed in many scenes. Colour is mostly a little subdued due to the limited palette in the POW camp. The only sequences to look lush are the flashbacks to Celliers and his brother, particularly in the garden scenes. I remember a difference in look between those sequences and the prison camp from seeing it in the cinema, so it’s obviously intentional. All the same, with regard to the transfer, it’s hard to hide my disappointment here.
The audio on ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ comes in two flavours. We get an LPCM 2.0 stereo mix as well as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. I started out listening to the surround mix, but there seemed to be a significant difference in level between the music and the dialogue in as much as if you set the music to a comfortable listening level, then the dialogue appeared too low. Due to this effect, I resorted to the LPCM 2.0 track for most of the film, which was much more acceptable. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, which is good as some scenes between Conti and Kitano are quite softly spoken. Japanese dialogue, thankfully, has English subtitles.
The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is well reproduced on the LPCM 2.0 track and will play in a mind loop for days after watching the film. The soundtrack doesn’t set out to be the star here, but concentrates on delivering the goods in a way that will not interfere with the story.
The Oshima Gang (SD, 31 mins) - This ‘Making of..’ featurette hails from the time of the movie’s release and includes interviews with Director Oshima as well as stars Bowie, Conti and Kitano – who all give their take on their involvement with the project. We also hear from author Sir Laurens Van Der Post, whose book was the basis for the film. There’s some auto level hiss on the sound track to contend with, but it’s interesting. It’s also fun to see what the actors had to put up with at Press conferences.
An interview with Jeremy Thomas (SD, 19 mins) - This is one of those interviews with the questions on title cards between the clips. Producer Jeremy Thomas gives us some background on the locations, working with the stars, the music and the logistics of shooting a film miles from anywhere.
An interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto (SD, 11 mins) - Here, the Japanese actor/musician talks about the challenge of both acting (he played Captain Yonoi) and composing the score for the movie. He also discusses turning the theme music into a pop chart success as well as what it was like to work with director Oshima.
An Excerpt from ‘Scenes by the Sea’ The Life and Cinema of ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano (SD, 3 mins) - A little background on the life of TV comic Takeshi Kitano. Director Oshima explains why he chose him for the role of Sergeant Hara and fellow thesp Tom Conti describes his admiration for his acting skills. It’s interesting that Japanese audiences laughed at him in the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 mins) - Here’s how it was sold to cinema audiences back in the early 80’s
The unconventional Prisoner of War movie ‘Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence’ comes to UK, Region B locked Blu-ray with a variable looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There’s noticeable grain throughout and contrast could be better in many scenes as could shadow detail. Not quite as bitingly sharp as you’d expect from a Blu-ray.
The audio comes in both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix (which appears to have some sound level issues between music and dialogue) and an LPCM 2.0 mix which is a very workmanlike functional track and does some justice to the haunting main theme.
The bonus material includes a period ‘Making of...’ featurette, interviews with producer Jeremy Thomas and Actor/Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as a brief background piece on actor Takeshi Kitano – and the theatrical trailer for the film.
As a film it’s an interesting look at the culture clash in a World War II Japanese POW camp with a standout performance from Tom Conti, ably supported by rock legend David Bowie. An unusual movie for those who like something a little different.
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