Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

The associate artist Ryuichi Sakamoto has made film music for over thirty films. He got his start in 1983 with the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence by film director Nagisa Oshima - a film he also played a role in himself, alongside David Bowie. He went on to compose soundtracks for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1994), for Pedro Almodovar’s High Heels (1991), Oliver Stone’s Wild Palms (1993) and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015). As well as for many smaller, but no less interesting films, like Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa, 2004).

The collaboration between the Holland Festival and associate artist Ryuichi Sakamoto is a reason for Eye to put the spotlight on Sakamoto’s impressive oeuvre of film music and the ways it continues to inspire new generations of (film) composers.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

The film that was Ryuichi Sakamoto’s debut as a film composer and actor. The film’s airy melody can be seen as the counterpart to its dark themes. Sakamoto was not the only pop star in the film; David Bowie played opposite him in possibly his best on-screen acting performance.

The absurdities of war can create a paradoxical concoction of affinity and enmity between prisoner and guard. In Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence this is exemplified in the curious obsession camp commander Yonoi (Sakamoto) displays for his prisoner Jack Celliers (David Bowie).

Sakamoto immediately made his mark with his debut film score. The well-known main theme is both catchy and melancholic. The score brilliantly combines string arrangements with sharp synthesizers, reminiscent of Yellow Magic Orchestra, that extremely successful band in which Sakamoto was still actively involved at the time.

Sakamoto even managed to enter the pop charts with his film music. The song Forbidden Colours, based on the film’s main theme and sung by Japan frontman David Sylvian, became a modest hit.


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