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Japanese Anti-war Films at Aero Theatre

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Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Bowie star in Nagisa Oshima’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”

SANTA MONICA — Four Japanese films will be shown at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica, as part of its “Anti-war Cinema” series.

On Friday, Feb. 7, Nagisa Oshima’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983, 123 minutes) will be shown in a double bill with “Grand Illusion” (1937, 114 minutes), Jean Renoir’s film about a group of French officers who have been taken prisoner during World War I, starting at 7:30 p.m.

In Oshima’s World War II drama, David Bowie regally embodies Celliers, a British officer interned by the Japanese as a POW. Rock star Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also composed the film’s hypnotic score) plays the camp commander, obsessed with the mysterious blond major, while Tom Conti is the British lieutenant colonel Lawrence, who tries to bridge the emotional and language divides between captor and prisoner. Also featuring actor-director Takeshi Kitano in his first dramatic role, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” is a multilayered, brutal, at times erotic tale of culture clash, and one of Oshima’s greatest successes.

In Japanese (with subtitles) and English. Tickets: $12 general, $8 for American Cinematheque members.

On Saturday, Feb. 8, Masaki Kobayashi’s trilogy “The Human Condition” (Ningen no Joken) will be shown, starting at 1 p.m. In real life, Kobayashi (also known for “Kwaidan”) served in the Japanese Imperial Army but continually refused promotion, remaining a private for the duration of the war as a way of protest.

Tatsuya Nakadai stars in Masaki Kobayashi’s trilogy, “The Human Condition.”

In the first installment, “No Greater Love” (1959, 208 minutes), Tatsuya Nakadai portrays a newlywed pacifist who is sent with his wife (Michiyo Aratama) to Manchuria to put into practice his theories for improving conditions at labor camps. But his optimism is slowly undermined not just by his civilian superiors’ complacency but also the brutal inhumanity of the military police overseers.

In the second installment, “The Road to Eternity” (1959, 181 minutes), Nakadai is drafted and sent into a barbaric regimen of training as a punishment for his refusal to give up his humanist principles. The Soviet Union declares war on Japan, and its galvanized army floods into Manchuria. Enduring the horrors of the battlefield as well as abuse from many of his fellow soldiers for his pacifist reputation, Nakadai tries his best to stay in touch with his long-suffering wife.

In the third installment, “A Soldier’s Prayer” (1961, 190 minutes), Nakadai and a comrade (Yusuke Kawazu) are overlooked as the Soviets overrun the disintegrating Japanese war machine. They try to make their way south, encountering a striking variety of refugees along the way. But Nakadai is eventually taken prisoner and shipped off to a Siberian POW camp. Upon arrival, he finds the most viciously unrepentant of the Japanese soldiers have been made trustees by their Soviet masters while the majority of the detainees are being systematically starved. At last, barely alive, he escapes into a hellish frozen wasteland – but does ultimate salvation or oblivion await him?

In Japanese, Mandarin and Russian with English subtitles. Special ticket prices: $15 general, $13 for American Cinematheque members. No vouchers.

For more information, call (310) 260-1528 or visit: http://americancinemathequecalendar.com/aero_theatre_events

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