You can watch it online here.
The New York Times begins its review with praise of David Bowie's performance:
DAVID BOWIE plays a born leader in Nagisa Oshima's ''Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,'' and he plays him like a born film star. Mr. Bowie's screen presence here is mercurial and arresting, and he seems to arrive at this effortlessly, though he manages to do something slyly different in every scene. The demands of his role may sometimes be improbable and elaborate, but Mr. Bowie fills them in a remarkably plain and direct way. Little else in the film is so unaffected or clear.Slant Magazine gives it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars and begins its review with this:
A prisoner-of-war drama as fever dream, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence fascinates mostly for the hit-and-miss alchemy of its discordant elements: in performance, pop-star charisma versus British actorliness; in narrative style, genre expectations coming up against modernist psychosexual undercurrents.Roger Ebert gives it a mixed review and says, "This is interesting material, especially since Oshima plunges a little more deeply into the psychology of his characters than your average prisoner-of-war movie is likely to." Empire Online has a mixed review and says, "This goes interesting places most POW dramas won't dare". 80% of Rotten Tomatoes critic reviews are positive.