Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • During WWII, a British colonel tries to bridge the cultural divides between a British POW and the Japanese camp commander in order to avoid bloodshed.

  • In 1942 British soldier Jack Celliers comes to a Japanese prison camp. The camp is run by Yonoi, who has a firm belief in discipline, honor and glory. In his view, the allied prisoners are cowards when they chose to surrender instead of committing suicide. One of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence, tries to explain the Japanese way of thinking, but is considered a traitor.

  • During World War II. Lt. Col. John Lawrence is a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp commanded by Captain Yonoi and Sgt. Hara. Lawrence speaks Japanese fluently and understands the way they think. The Japanese see the British as dishonorable and weak for having surrendered. The POW commander will have nothing of it however and sometimes treats Lawrence as a collaborator and refuses to follow his advice. For him, the Japanese are cruel and bloodthirsty and not the loyal and brave soldiers that they believe they are. The arrival of a new prisoner, Maj. Jack Celliers, has an effect on all of them.

  • In 1942, in Java, the British Major Jack 'Strafer' Celliers arrives in the Japanese POW camp and is submitted to a Japanese court to examine his surrender. He explains that the Japanese soldiers would murder the local villagers and he decided to surrender to avoid the massacre. The camp commander Captain Yonoi feels a sort of fascination for Jack and sends him to the infirmary to be treated. The liaison of the prisoners with Yonoi and Sergeant Gengo Hara, Colonel John Lawrence, has lived in Japan for many years and can understand both cultures and their leader is Captain Hicksley. When the rebel Jack leaves the infirmary, he challenges Yonoi, who is a man that follows the principles of honor and discipline. Yonoi believes that Jack is possessed by demons and their confrontation will lead the British to a tragic end.

  • Java, 1942. Focusing primarily on five players, the clashes between east and west and within the ranks on each side at a Japanese POW camp, where most of the prisoners are British, are presented. For the east, there is the camp commander, Captain Yonoi, a man in the traditional sense of a Japanese warrior, he who lives by those traditions. He believes that all British are liars. His guards, including Sergeant Gengo Hara, will often subvert his command in their own views of how to get the upper hand over their prisoners while satisfying their own needs, they may or may not be willing to accept the consequences if caught, those consequences again in the Japanese tradition. For the west, there is the ranking officer representing the prisoners, Group Captain Hicksley, an RAF pilot who is all bluster in sticking up for his men. Outwardly, it is Colonel John Lawrence who tries to bridge the gap between east and west, he who is fluent in Japanese and who truly tries to understand and thus react to the actions of their Japanese and Korean captors appropriately. However, recent arrival Major Jack Celliers, may be the one who truly has the most profound affect in bridging that gap especially as he is carrying some emotional baggage not associated with the war.



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