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Empire of the Sun (1987)

PG  |   |  Drama, History, War  |  25 December 1987 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 84,747 users   Metascore: 60/100
Reviews: 288 user | 56 critic | 17 from Metacritic.com

A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.



(novel), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 6 Oscars. Another 12 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Victor
Dr. Rawlins
Masatô Ibu ...
Emily Richard ...
Mary Graham, Jim's mother
Rupert Frazer ...
Peter Gale ...
Mr. Victor
Takatarô Kataoka ...
Kamikaze Boy Pilot (as Takatoro Kataoka)
David Neidorf ...
Mr. Lockwood


Based on J. G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, tells the story of a boy, James Graham, whose privileged life is upturned by the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, December 8, 1941. Separated from his parents, he is eventually captured, and taken to Soo Chow confinement camp, next to a captured Chinese airfield. Amidst the sickness and food shortages in the camp, Jim attempts to reconstruct his former life, all the while bringing spirit and dignity to those around him. Written by Jeff Hansen <jmh@umich.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

japanese | british | food | pow | pilot | See All (279) »


To survive in a world at war, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.


Drama | History | War


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



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Release Date:

25 December 1987 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El imperio del sol  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)


$22,238,696 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints)| (35 mm prints)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


J.G. Ballard:  the author played the part of a guest in the masquerade party scene. However, only a quick glimpse of him can be seen in the final cut. See more »


At the beginning, when Jim encounters the Japanese soldiers in the city as they are gathered for a meal, they are eating dumplings family-style as a group and using long, blunt-ended chopsticks. This would be very unusual for Japanese soldiers and would be more characteristic of Chinese soldiers. Japanese do not normally eat this way and their chopsticks would be pointed. If there is a common bowl of food, Japanese would turn their chopsticks around to transfer the food to their own bowl and then eat it with the narrow end only. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: [title card] In 1941 China and Japan had been in a state of undeclared war for four years. A Japanese army of occupation was in control of much of the countryside and many towns and cities. In Shanghai thousands of Westerners, protected by the diplomatic security of the International Settlement, continued to live as they had lived since the British came here in the 19th century and built in the image of their own country... built banking houses, hotels, offices, churches and homes ...
See more »


References Gone with the Wind (1939) See more »


Written by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr
Performed by Al Bowlly / Mayfair Orchestra / Ronnie Munro
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Extraordinary film
19 August 2001 | by (Sacramento, CA) – See all my reviews

Reading through the reviews, there were a lot of people who didn't understand this film. This is Spielberg's venture into the realm of art in cinematography. This film is a visual masterpiece and you are swept along from beginning to end. Yes, the tale gets a bit loose in spots and you never know what's going to happen next. But, if you're willing to give up warm and fuzzy for lush visual images and startling leaps of character, you'll see what Spielberg's trying to accomplish. This film makes use of the talents of Miranda Richardson and gives some early exposure to the likes of John Malkovich and Ben Stiller, but young Christian Bale steals the show. The reviewer that commented on the "gothic" effect of the Tai-Pan's going to the costume ball being driven through Shanghai was right on. This film is rife with such scenes and does not disappoint. It's wholly misleading to look for some kind of action story underlying this film. The tale, taken from the book, is straightforward enough: a young boy's boost into manhood through the second world war. The film is full of memorable moments and visually very, very pleasing. As art, it is excellent. That's likely why it wasn't a blockbuster, as say, e.g., Poltergeist, Close Encounters and the Jurassic Park films, were. But, hey. That's the cost of creating art as opposed to crap. And, crap does draw a lot of flies...

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