Good Example Of Essay On A Clash Of Cultures, A Test Of The Human Spirit
Shot in 1983, the film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” by Nagisa Oshima is a Japanese-British reflection on the interactions of two different national groups. The film is based on two novels “The Seed and the Sower” and “The Night of the New Moon” by Sir Laurens van der Post who witnessed the events shown in the movie as a Japanese prisoner of war during the World War II. The joint of the cultures results in disobedience, punishment, and death. Still, there is also place for friendship, lust, and faith. The author shows the audience the contradictory relationships between the Japanese and their prisoners in a brilliant two-hour motion picture.
“The central theme of the movie is clearly the clash of cultures between the British troops and the Japanese” (Rajan, 1). The two radically different cultures characterize the same notions with different features and this sets them apart – misunderstanding results in feud. Both sides think they are right and their enemy is stupid. The reflection upon homosexuality is a secondary storyline which helps to see how the East-West encounters arise practically. The fascination with the other at physical level is a phenomenon which exists among both Eastern and Western men – but the attitude to it differs by the measure of punishment.
The director starts the movie with a very particular opening scene – the audience watches how the situation that needs to be resolved reveals different attitudes to the same thing. In the opening scene, the director wants to represent the audience the idea of the unbridgeable gulf between the two national groups. In 1942, the Japanese being at the height of their military power were absolutely faithful to their stern principles, and the life of every soldier was fully devoted to the military service. They were fearless and always ready to give blood for their empire – there existed such operations which supposed the deaths of the Japanese soldiers in order to make the road free for the other soldiers, and they consciously participated in them. Before becoming a soldier, the young Japanese makes fealty to the Emperor, and from now on, his life belongs to him – to serve for the sake of the Emperor means everything to the soldier.
Firstly, the spectator finds out that the British soldiers are captured by the Japanese, and they don’t seem to agree well. The British are not humble and obedient, and the Japanese are rather rude and cruel (sergeant Hara beats the British soldier with a bamboo baton for no reason – the latter’s eye bleeds). Then, the audience finds out that the two men (the Korean guard and the Dutch soldier) were nabbed during their physical encounters. Colonel Lawrence is invited to witness the punishment for the guilty.
The director chose to introduce the audience to the Japanese perception of life through the dialogue. The astonished Lawrence can’t understand why the situation is taken so seriously and why he is forced to watch the deaths while sergeant Hara laughs and looks forward to the Korean’s hara-hiri. Here, the audience already sees a huge gap between the European and the Eastern culture – the values and priorities are completely different. Lawrence wants to find out the details of the accident but Hara does not find them necessary – the two will be punished anyway. To Lawrence, the act of humanity would be to save both while to Hara, the only way out of the current situation would be to let the Korean avoid disgrace.
Obviously, the two cultures have different attitudes to the value of life. The European reality is based on the idea that the person is given only one life and it is worth fighting for. For the British soldiers, the commitment to humanity centers on their ethics. Any improper behavior or mistake can be repented, and the person always has a chance to start a new life. Also, it is very important to remember that the humiliation of human dignity in public is not practiced in the European culture the way it is in the Eastern. If homosexual soldiers were revealed in the British regiment, they would probably be either arrested or treated in the mental institution but no death penalty is foreseen in this case.
The Japanese reality supposes there is no place for disgrace and shame in life of a person – it is an honor to commit a suicide (hara-hiri/seppuku) if any of those threaten the human reputation. The price of life is obviously not very high. The Japanese soldiers embrace the aesthetics of honor, avoidance of shame, and conformity to order. Ridiculing the guilty in public is normal as well as watching his suicide – Hara takes Lawrence intentionally to witness the whole process: from humiliation to death. Though the Japanese soldiers talk so much of the importance of honor and the unacceptability of shame they still do not find anything wrong in long and tormenting humiliation of the guilty (Hara laughs at the Korean and proposes him to repeat the sexual intercourse). Japanese director managed to show how the Europeans see the Eastern culture with all its brutality and severity.
The audience would soon see the irony in this scene – afterwards, captain Yonoi who judges De Jong and the Korean guard will the same day meet major Jack Celliers and become attracted to him. Celliers’s physical beauty and intriguing persona will have the mysterious unlimited power over Yonoi. Yonoi’s unrequited love will not prevent him from the accusation of the two of the homosexuality – the traditional code of honor obliges him to punish the guilty.
Another conflict between two national groups can be found during the military court. Here, the judges represent the Japanese culture, and Jack Celliers – the British one. When Jack mentions he yielded himself prisoner to the Japanese colonel and told him his real name, one of the judges cannot understand why he would do that – the Japanese soldier would never say his real name as well as yield himself prisoner; he would rather die. The fact that Jack was threatened that the whole village would be murdered if he did not capitulate testifies once again of the Japanese absence of value of life – even the local community may be killed for the sake of the military necessity. The thought that Jack surrendered to save people for humanitarian reasons is incomprehensible to the Japanese.
The conflicts between the two groups will be demonstrated through numerous dialogues where the audiences can hear different points of view and see how sincerely they don’t understand each other’s life philosophies. “The Japanese, for example, find the surrender of British soldiers to be cowardly, and so the whole camp’s existence is something shameful” (Rajan, 1). Lawrence, in his turn, tries to explain that it is not a shame to be a captive – it is simply a part of the game of war. To commit a suicide for the British is an act of a coward while in the Japanese culture, not to do it means the fear of death. “The British view seppuku as barbaric, and look at surrender as a way to stay alive and survive” (Rajan, 1).
But in spite of the tension between the two national groups, the director demonstrates that the intercultural communication and even friendship are possible. Hara and Lawrence have amicable relations – four years later, when they reverse roles (Hara is now imprisoned), they still smile and laugh, and Lawrence supports his former imprisoner like an old friend. These relationships developed into a sincere friendship mostly because Lawrence could speak Japanese – the exceptional link in the process of communication. Lawrence knew the language and understood and tried to be loyal to the Japanese culture – this made him much closer to these people than anyone else among the British.
The voiceless connection between Yonoi and Celliers is another evidence of the possible intercultural relationships. Yonoi is intrigued by the British soldier since the time of his trial, and he will be very attentive to him throughout the movie. The audience can watch the mutual attraction by the light of nature. Celliers’s irresistible beauty disturbs his judgment and drives him crazy; the influence the British exerts on him makes him believe Celliers is an evil spirit. In addition to the spiritual connection between the two, Yonoi knows English and tries to learn the British mentality from Lawrence. Yonoi is under the sway of passion but also controlled by the militant order and traditional code of honor – all this makes him helpless in front of Celliers. The attentive spectator would notice that Yonoi is the same war victim as Celliers – he cannot act as he wants to so he stays in the same position of a prisoner of a situation.
The characters’ faces have definite symbolic meanings in the movie. Though the actors are mostly non-professionals, they managed to create the bright personalities. As for the British, John Lawrence and Jack Celliers are the most interesting characters representing different positions of being a prisoner. Lawrence is the only person who made the negotiations possible on the island of Java; he stands in the middle between the two national groups and tries to find the areas of common interest. His kind tired face reveals a kind and loyal man. He represents fairness and universality in humanity that go beyond nationalities, this character stands for the human life, whether it is British or Japanese.
The rebellious Celliers with his mismatched eyes and the curl of the lips reveal a fearless person whose memory cannot forget the image of his younger brother being hazed at school. He is ready for self-sacrifice to pay kain and stop being tormented by the memories. This British soldier is attracted by another Japanese man whose beautiful face and charisma also impress the audience. In his face, the spectator sees he is deeply concerned with the traditional sense of honor as a soldier but his sensitive nature blears his eyes. As for Hara, this jovial Japanese has a pleasant face expressing the naivete of mind and a kind heart. His face expression in the last scene represents the intercultural friendship and absence of the borders people try to create.
One of the movie’s last scenes would be Jack kissing Yonoi and thus saving captain Hicksley – this unbearable offence according to the code of honor but violent passion according to his homoerotic fantasies connected with Jack confront in this moment, and he is not able to do anything at all. The audience is truly surprised by Jack’s self-sacrifice and pities him for being severely punished, namely buried alive. After that, Yonoi would pay his last visit to Jack and symbolically cut a lock of his hair – this scene means faith and strong feelings Yonoi has to the British soldier, and it seems like the whole situation is only following the rules and the codes of honor created by someone long ago. In reality, there are these two people who do not see any borders between them but they cannot fight the traditions.
The beautiful soundtrack for the movie was created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the actor playing the part of Yonoi. The sad and helpless tone sounds throughout the movie and contributes to its atmosphere thus making the audience restless and expecting some death at any moment. In a number of dramatic scenes, the main theme is repeatedly employed in order to highlight the border between life and death every soldier (Japanese or British) is constantly facing. The traditional compositions add to the Japanese culture the audience is getting to know.
The whole movie is an effective way for the viewer to understand where the West ends and the East begins if speaking about two national groups and cultures. It was fair enough to depict the two nations in the wartime for the director because the war as it is intensifies the people’s feelings and actions. The movie is a profound work of art touching the important social aspects and making the audience truly reflect upon the borders and walls people create and at the same time suffer from them.
Fortunately, the 21st century the audience lives in is the era when people throughout the whole planet are linked and communicate with each other in spite of the distance. The technical progress gave an opportunity to develop the intercultural communication so that both sides are interested in each other’s cultures and do their best to understand each other’s mentalities. Today, people are proud of their customs and traditions but they do not oppose them to the foreigners. East and West know each other well and exchange the knowledge and good practices, help and support each other.
Possibly, the difference has no other way but result in feud in order to be later accepted by both sides. If people of every nation did not create individual features, there would be no nationalities with their particularities, there would be no progress. The two need to hate and fight each other before they understand that they have much in common and are able to cooperate.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” is a preface to the future cooperation of Great Britain and Japan – the audience sees that the good relationships between the representatives of the two countries are possible on the example of Lawrence and Hara. The title of the movie and the last scene is the best proof of it.
Rajan, Khanna. “A Hidden Acting Triumph: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence””. Tor.com. Macmillan, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2015
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