During World War II, British soldier Jack Celliers (David Bowie) is captured by Japanese forces and held in a prison camp by the honor-bound Capt. Yanoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto). Yanoi and gruff Sgt. Hara (Takeshi) become intrigued with Celliers' open defiance in the face of their staunchly old-world ideas about cowardice and shame. Meanwhile, a translator, Lt. Col. John Lawrence (Tom Conti), attempts to find common ground between British and Japanese beliefs.