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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.



(novel), (screenplay)
1,500 ( 514)
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:

british | food | pow | pilot | american | 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 »


In the scene where the P-51D pilot waves at Jim, just before the close-up of the pilot, a white Range Rover can be seen parked on the airfield as the Mustang passes. 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 Citizen Kane (1941) See more »


The British Grenadiers
Arranged and Conducted by John Williams
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Survivng life when your world has been turned upside down.
6 January 2005 | by (Connecticut) – See all my reviews

I saw this movie 17 years ago as a ten year old in the theater and saw it again for the first time since then last night on a TV movie channel. I have to say I'm almost ashamed that I forgot what a great movie this was...what a great movie it still is. The film contains parts very competently played by the then relatively un-knowns John Malkovic, Joey "Pants" and Ben Stiller. The lead was played, and very well done at that, by a then young actor Christian Bales (sp?). The acting in this movie is fantastic and the story line is is as rich as any other of the best movies I've seen. Following the trials and tribulations of a child from an affluent family separated from his parents in China after the Japanese invasion. This movie will make you angry, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will frustrate the living daylights out of you and in the end you'll feel warm and fuzzy: but the hollow kind of warm and fuzzy that only comes after a very harrowing experience. If you don't like war movies don't worry!!! When you watch this film you'll see it's not as much of a war movie as it is a story of survival and the brutal realities of life when the world has been turned upside down. The movie really spoke to me partially b/c I was a young kid when I first saw it and the main character is also a young man. However, this movie also spoke to me on a much different, deeper level. Ever since I was child I was always fortunate/blessed enough to have my family along with everything I needed and most of what I wanted. This movie depicts what happens when all of those familiar things and creature comforts are taken away...it makes you ask yourself: What would I do in this situation? How would I react? A fantastic movie for almost all ages!!!

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P51 Cadillac of the Sky - Best Aviation Scene of all times tobedobedo
What does Sargent Nagata say to Jim just before he leaves the camp? jimmelnh
Anyone else have a problem with the A-bomb bit? fabrice4211
Spielberg's Best Film? alj_Turin
Ben Stiller kberenson
Lead officer at the internment camp mcintyre-15
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