3 Movies Like Band of Outsiders (1964)

Staff & contributors

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

Clocking in at just under four hours, Hu Bo's first and last feature film—before his tragic death at the age of 29—is a sprawling indictment of a country that the filmmaker must have viewed as positively hostile and suffocating. Following several characters whose paths intersect as they try to escape their current circumstances, An Elephant Sitting Still creates a truly oppressive atmosphere that may not lead you to the answers you expect, but it should leave you feeling haunted for a long, long time. Beautifully scored, shot, and acted, Hu's film offers practically no hope but it keeps on moving with a sense of freedom and determination all its own. This is as honest a film can get; Hu has left behind a moving legacy.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Chaobei Wang, Li Congxi, Li Qing, Peng Yuchang, Wang Ning, Wang Yuwen, Zhang Yu, Zhao Tao, Zhaoyan Guozhang, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhu Yanmanzi, Zhu-Yan Manzi

Director: Hu Bo

A deadpan anthology of three interconnected stories set in a run-down hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The film's deliberate pacing, minimalist approach, and observational style are present throughout, capturing the essence of each character and their encounters with the city. 

Director Jim Jarmusch's indie film displays its characters' quirks and desires, all underlined with a love letter to Elvis Presley. Each unique segment has some charm, humor, and soundtrack that creates a palpable sense of time and place even if the sum displaces the overall narrative.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Calvin Brown, Cinqué Lee, Elizabeth Bracco, Jim Stark, Jodie Markell, Joe Strummer, Masatoshi Nagase, Nicoletta Braschi, Richard Boes, Rick Aviles, Rockets Redglare, Rufus Thomas, Sara Driver, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Tom Noonan, Tom Waits, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Youki Kudoh

Director: Jim Jarmusch