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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?


Some of the "Mustangs" and "Zeros" in the background during the attack of the airfield were radio controlled models with a wingspan of 12 feet. If one looks thoroughly, a "Mustang" passing from right to left, trailing smoke, has no undercarriage doors. That is one of the models. The "Zero" exploding in mid-air is, of course, also a model. Six "Mustangs" and six "Zeros" were built by "Model Effects". See more »


In an early scene where 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 »


Referenced in Pearl Harbor (2001) See more »


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

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

From a Japanese girl
3 November 1998 | by (Tokyo, Japan) – See all my reviews

This is the first time I commented on a film. I saw this yesterday night for the first time. And I just cried.

I cried for Jim. I cried for the pain our country caused in the innocent civilians. (Japan can be so stupid!) I cried for the pilots of the Zero-sen.

I've read and seen lots of movies of these pilots. They're called tokoutai in Japanese. They get on their planes knowing they will die. It's a suicide mission, and they were very proud of it. I know if you're on the winning side you may not sympathize these pilots, but they were just fighting for their country. In those days, the emperor was everything. They taught you to die for the emperor at school when you were only in 1st grade.

But I don't know the war. I've never experienced it. I can't understand the concept of dying for your emperor. So I sympathise with Jim. Jim is a symbol. A symbol of innocence, of the horrors of war. His singing proves that too. He's also the ray of light for these prisoners. His energy and vitality are important aspects. It brings out some human characteristics in the sergent as well.

Christian Bale was remarkable. He should be commemorated or something for this performance, cause it was just brilliant. So was John Malcovich.

Overall it was great. One of the best movies I ever saw. It made me think, a lot. About war, about Japan, about history, and about humans in general.

104 of 117 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Lead officer at the internment camp mcintyre-15
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