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Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence: THE MUSIC

Opinions concerning the film music are almost unanimous: it is one of the best ever.


The soundtrack can be found with different covers - depending whether on CD, vinyl or whether the 1994 reissue. The one at the top right is the 1994 reissue on Milan records. Various LP editions can be seen below.

Above: Original vinyl issue. Larger images, here at discogs.
 


Ryuichi Sakamoto


The music score was composed not by Bowie but one of the film's actors - Ryuichi Sakamoto (he played Captain Yonoi).


Sakamoto was already fairly well known musician in Japan, however, his striking main theme would make him more
known to the wider public.


Here he is performing a stunning live version:






David Sylvian



The soundtrack also featured David Sylvian (from the rock group Japan) singing a vocal version of the main theme (as well as composing lyrics to said theme).


The song - better known as "Forbidden Colours" - was for some listeners, a point of confusion...


As noted by music critics over the years, Sylvian does have a resemblance to Bowie - a point further highlighted by the music video that used transitions between Bowie's image in the film to those of Sylvian singing in the clip:




To public knowledge, Bowie has never done a version of this song himself.


Needless to say, it would probably compliment his Heathen-Reality era material very well in addition to re-evoking arguably his greatest acting role more than two decades after the fact.





The song is also available as an excellent piano / vocal version (featured on a rare bside).


Top selling English soprano Sarah Brightman has also since produced a cover version (sticking fairly close to the original) as has several other major artists.





David Bowie


Although Bowie was not involved in any of the film music (as far as we know), he was of course up for consideration. Oshima explains:



"I asked [David Bowie] if he wanted to do the music for the film
, but I was a little apprehensive because I didn't want people to get the impression that I had cast him in the film in order to get his music.


Above all, I wanted people to appraise him as an actor.


He just wanted to concentrate on his role. I think that the purity of the character comes out clearly in the film".



~ Nagisa Oshima



Bowie also explained a bit further on this:

 

"I would have never considered it because I have tried to stay very far away from music in any films that I am supposedly an actor in.

It is hard enough just being convincing as an actor. It shouldn't be a situation of: 'If you don't like the acting, you might like the music'.

They have to like the acting only".


~ David Bowie


The R&B Tapes


Finally, it should be noted that Bowie's time in the Cook Islands was not entirely void of music. In fact, it may have even provided the impetus and working method for Let's Dance - his biggest album yet.





On one hand, it was partly to do with what Bowie took with him to the Cook Islands...


Prior to leaving for holiday, Bowie packed several tapes of favourite rhythm and blues tracks from the 1950s and 60s - the idea being that he needed something he could listen to over and over again. As he explained - "the South Pacific can get very boring"!


The other aspect was Oshima's fast method of working which could have influenced his approach to Let's Dance:

"It was a bit like making old rock 'n' roll records, when James Brown and his band would do it just once".


After shooting Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Bowie returned to New York to start work on the album that would become the top selling work of his career. Completed at breakneck speed, Let's Dance was all finished in only 20 days!





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