The David Bowie Community of Australia and New Zealand

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence: BACKGROUND

The movie Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence(starring David Bowie) was filmed in New Zealand and the Cook Islands ( a territory of New Zealand) in 1982.

The Cook Islands has long been a favoured place to make movies because of things like accommodation, location, the New Zealand dollar and the availability of cheap casting for extras.

Above: Te Manga, Rarotonga's highest peak.

The Seed and The Sower

The film was based on an acclaimed book - The Seed and The Sower (1963) - by Laurens van der Post, a South African who had experience as a prisoner of war in World War II.

The book itself is something of a masterpiece and it may even reveal a bit more of the story.

Above: Different editions of the book. The larger pics are from the 1983 Penguin release printed in Australia with David Bowie as 'Jack Celliers' on the cover. Bottom right is a 2004 edition.

Genesis of the Film


Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence was directed by Nagisa Oshima - one of Japan's most known and accomplished directors. Oshima also wrote the initial script.

David Bowie's involvement began as early as 1980 when he was approached by Oshima with a view to star in his next movie - a proposition that held immediate attraction for Bowie.

After Oshima saw Bowie perform The Elephant Man on Broadway, the two sealed the deal to work together.

"I knew immediately that he was Celliers. He has an inner spirit that is indestructible, and that is what Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is all about. The inner human spirit that war cannot touch".

~ Nagisa Oshima

Bowie and director Nagisha Oshima. Left image from the Serious Moonlight tour book - you can read a bit more about Oshima's t-shirt on Ramona Leigh's page.


Although Bowie was to focus only on his acting, he did make an initial suggestion that the script needed revision.

This led to the involvement of co-writer Paul Mayersberg - the same man who tailored the screenplay for The Man Who Fell To Earth.


Unfortunately, the project took some time to get off the ground.

Oshima's award winning Ai No Corrida (In The Realm of the Senses) has already sparked a famous obscenity trial in 1976.

Just as the film h ad been rejected by Japanese backers and eventually produced with French money, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence with it's homosexual subtext and unflattering portrayal of Japanese wartime atrocities, was forced into postponement while Oshima found finance in England and New Zealand.


"Once there was a place where the earth was soaked in blood and tears.......

And that is where the brightest flowers grew..."