By no means an easy picture to deal with, this thinking man’s version of The Bridge on the River Kwai makes no concessions to the more obvious commercial requirements, unless it is the selection of David Bowie, the pop star, for the leading dramatic role.
The strongest points of the script, penned by Nagisa Oshima and Paul Mayersberg from a novel [The Seed and the Sower] by South African author Laurens van der Post, are the philosophical and emotional implications, brought up in a careful and intricate comparison between Orient and Occident on every possible level. The weakest point is its construction, sturdy and compact up to the point when it has to use flashbacks in order to explain the British side of the allegory.
Set in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Java, the plot has a Japanese captain, Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto), trying to impose his own ideas of discipline, honor, order and obedience, in a clash with a British major, Celliers (Bowie), who represents the diametrically opposed train of thought.
The conflict between the two leading figures is better verbalized by Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti), who lends his name to the film’s title, and Hara (Takeshi), the Japanese sergeant whose popular origins allow him much more freedom of emotions.