However, while Oshima lets his character’s use this kind of stereotype in their dialogue, he does not allow the movie to present the same ideas that his characters hold. In other words, by contrasting character’s dialogue with the actual events that unfold, he paints for the audience a different picture – one which allows us more understanding of these concepts.
In terms of how the two cultures relate to death, there are many points in the movie where Oshima brings into question commonly held stereotypes. Jack and Lawrence are spared from death multiple times by Sakamoto and especially Hara Gunso – the two characters who would most be expected to not show any sympathy. Furthermore, when the tables are turned, the British, who supposedly placed such value on the sanctity of life, are shown to not do so at all when the sentence the Japanese to death.
Ideas of individuality as well are shown to not be as simple as just an East vs. West difference. As we learn about Jack’s background, we witness the power of group thought and the attack on individuality, not in Japan, the East, but in England. Additionally, Hara Gunso repeatedly shows examples of taking more individual action than many of the British characters.
Of all the characters though, the one who seems to echo most closely Oshima’s views would be Lawrence. This is especially apparent in some of the lines he has toward the concept of war, for example when he responds to an execution and is then questioned about whose actions were right and who’ s were wrong. “No, no captain Yanoi,” he says, “You’re wrong. …We’re all wrong.” Later, he follows up these sentiments with “…and the truth is, of course, that nobody’s right.” The simplicity of viewing one side always in the same way, for example as one side being “right” in war, is shown now to be a gross oversimplification, and in fact, a dire mistake.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is not so serious and didactic though as to become overly weighty toward the viewer. In fact, I found some scenes to be almost hilarious in their unwitting attempts at ironic humor. When David Bowie voices the line “I wish I could sing,” I almost burst at the seams. Other, similar one-liners are enough to give the movie a unique kind of quirkiness that, if taken just a little bit further, would be enough to make one wonder when the Goblin King is going to break into another rendition of Magic Dance.