Internationally acclaimed for their formal style and power, Nagisa Oshima's films have always dealt with controversial issues which Japan's Establishment would rather see swept under the carpet. Based upon a famous Laurens van der Post novel (The Seed and the Sower), Oshima's "Senjo no Meri Kurisumasu (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence)" once more breaks taboos and takes skeletons out of the closet, airing a subject that not even a fairly long history of Japanese anti-war films has dared to touch upon: the treatment of the inmates of wartime prison-camps by their Japanese captors.

Just as many of Oshima's films have presented the criminal as a product of a social environment, but not by way of an excuse, ?"Mr. Lawrence" shows how Japanese wartime excesses were spawned by a political climate which not only made them possible, but actually encouraged them. More subtly, we are shown how war and cultural conflicts force men who might well be friends into relationships of power and subjugation, contempt and cruelty.

But the most remarkable thing about all this is the strikingly original methods used to get the various points across. Rejecting conventional realism, Oshima sets his harsh prison camp on the idyllic tropical island of Raratonga and casts contemporary idols as the institutional ones of 40 years ago. Oshima's options were risky to say the least: one hardly imagines inmates and wardens of a Japanese POW camp looking like rock stars.