Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence [1983]

A highly unusual war movie with as many detractors as fans, this English-language feature directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) stars David Bowie as a silent, ethereal POW in a Japanese camp. Protesting--via his own enigmatic rebellion--the camp's brutal conditions and treatment of prisoners, Bowie's character earns the respect of the camp commandant (Ryuichi Sakamoto). While the two seem locked in an unspoken, spiritual understanding, another prisoner (Tom Conti) engages in a more conventional resistance against a monstrous sergeant (Takeshi). The film has a way of evoking as many questions as certainties, and it is not always easy to understand the internal logic of the characters' actions. But that's generally true of Oshima's movies, in which the power of certain relationships is almost hallucinatory in self-referential intensity. The cast is outstanding, and Bowie is particularly fascinating in his alien way. --Tom Keogh

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