Forbidden Colours

‘sonically it was incredible’

When it came to making casting decisions for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, there was no doubt that Nagisa Ōshima took an unconventional approach. ‘Unlike most directors, I find it frustrating to have to cast only actors,’ he later declared. ‘I’m always on the look out for people from a different field…I simply don’t like established methods. There are six billion people on this planet, but I’m supposed to choose someone after looking through just twenty or thirty actors’ portraits. I’ve felt the same way since the beginning of my film career. And if I do things differently, perhaps I can stretch the horizons of my work. It’s something I think about every time I make a film.’

First there was the decision to invite Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano to play the role of tough military officer at the prisoner of war camp in Indonesia, Sergeant Gengo Hara. Whilst Kitano would go on to establish himself as both movie actor and eminent director, to this point he was well known in Japan as a comedian. His public image could hardly have been further removed from the enforcer he was asked to portray. ‘I had a gut feeling that he had natural acting ability,’ said Ōshima, ‘having worked with him in the past on several TV variety shows. In fact, I think it was during one of those shows that I asked him if he fancied acting in a film. He said straight away that he was a bit shy about it…I urged him to do it and gave him two pieces of advice. The first was not to settle for a minor role. I told him to go for a big part right from the start. The second was not to appear in a comedy, simply because he was already well known as a comedian.’

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