Although this CD stands on its own very well -- and indeed was the most compelling soundtrack of 1983 -- it's hard to consider it totally separately from Sakomoto's other OST masterpiece, 1987's 'The Last Emperor'. Both movies had oriental themes and settings, but whereas 'The Last Emperor' was a largely acoustic / orchestral venture for Sakomoto, this is all-electronic.
'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' has two stand-out themes: the title theme (tracks #1, #10 and #19), and 'Sowing the Seed' (track #14). Both are excellent and unforgettable. The rest are sketches which provide a magnificent aural background to the dramatic events that unfold at the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. I feel you have to see the movie to fully appreciate Sakomoto's intent, though the sight of David Bowie dressed as a schoolboy for one scene may be hard to take!
The final track, 'Forbidden Colours', deserves a mention, because this was the single released to promote the movie. It sounds as if Sakomoto and Seigen Ono created the entire instrumental soundtrack in Tokyo, but then the western producer decided a vocal-based track was needed for the single. I would guess that the opening instrumental track was sent to David Sylvian -- please tell me that he wasn't picked just because he sang for a band called 'Japan'! -- who then pasted his vocals over the top.
The single did reasonably well in the UK charts, but DJs quickly realised that the instrumental B-side -- i.e. the theme with the Sylvian vocal stripped out -- had more commercial merit. And this is the theme that everyone remembers the movie for. But over the years, David Sylvian's song has really grown on me. His lyric focusses on the homo-erotic relationship between the characters that Sakomoto and Bowie play, a theme which isn't so promounced in the original novel.
In retrospect, Sylvian's treatment of the song seems entirely right. It just seems bizarre that Bowie appears in the movie, but doesn't play on the soundtrack, whereas Sakomoto does. And yet for 1985's 'The Falcon and the Snowman', Bowie sings the main theme, but doesn't appear in the movie.
Anyway, enjoy the soundtrack, and make sure you see the movie. It's visceral!