Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Weirdly fractured on a scene-by-scene basis, the story of a prisoner of war camp for the British run by the Japanese and how the arrival of an enigmatic stranger impacts on those stuck playing the roles circumstance or culture insists upon. There is a lot of great material here – the collapse of empires, duty vs. desire, individual responsibility within a dispassionate war machine – but the film never really coalesces around these themes, instead hammering these points almost at random from moment to moment.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t eventually get the job done, and the final epilogue is a remarkably emotional farewell to both the characters and the whole mess of warfare and the sticky issue of punishment and how much it is actually meant as retribution, and how much it is meant as a reflex to act as a sort of delineation between past and future regimes. A young (well, relatively) Takeshi Kitano makes the most of his chance to poke his head out of the comedy ghetto, and would go on to remarkable things himself.

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