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Empire of the Sun (1987)

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



(screenplay), (novel)
1,502 ( 124)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Another 12 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Victor
Masatô Ibu ...
Emily Richard ...
Rupert Frazer ...
Peter Gale ...
Mr. Victor
Takatarô Kataoka ...
Kamikaze Boy Pilot (as Takatoro Kataoka)
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


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)

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,314,509, 13 December 1987, Limited Release

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$66,700,000, 31 December 1987
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints)| (35 mm prints)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Contrary to popular belief, this is not Christian Bale's film debut. He actually appeared in "Mio in the Land of Faraway" which was released in July of 1987. Empire of the Sun was released in December 1987. See more »


In an early scene, when Jamie's mother is sitting on the foot of his bed, she lights a cigarette. When she stands to exit the room, the cigarette has disappeared. 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 »


Featured in Into the Breach: 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998) See more »


Chopin Mazurka Opus 17 No. 4
Written by Frédéric Chopin
Arranged and Conducted by John Williams
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Very emotional film, with brilliant young Christian Bale.
27 January 2004 | by See all my reviews

Empire of the Sun, I have just revisited this film on DVD and was amazed the effect it left on me. This is almost an unknown film relative to most other Spielberg work. The DVD is not even available in Australia, so I had it 'Amazoned' from the US.

Christian Bales performance as the 12 year old Jim is mesmerizing. He is in virtually every scene of the 2.5 hour movie and gives us the full range of emotions. He also one of the best looking kids I've seen, which add tremendously to the viewing appeal of the movie. A true heart throb in the making.

As a history lesson Empire give us an insight to the happenings in China in WWII, and the ambitions of the Japanese Empire, which are never touched on in other WWII movies.

The most emotional part of the film for me: Jim is looking through the fence at the Japanese airbase, the sun is setting, he is dreaming of flying in those incredible machines, pilots are smartly uniformed and decorated, offices passing drinks to the young pilots, superb music playing, Zeros ready to go, Jim salutes the Japanese heroes as they are flying out. What we know is that the war is lost for Japan and these pilots are surely on Kamikaze suicide missions. We feel great empathy for these fellow human beings despite the fact that they are the enemy.

The images in Empire are beautiful to look at, the movie is thought provoking and provide some history lesson, if somewhat fantasy and sacrine sweet. A behind the scenes war movie with heart. My favourite Spielberg movie and in my top 15 of all time. Other favourites in no order. Titanic, Patton, Unforgiven, Airport, Terminator, Salaam Bombay, 2001, Bridge on River Kwai, Minority Report.

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