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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?


"Suo Gân", the movie's theme song, is a lullaby sung in Welsh. Director Steven Spielberg chose it after casting Welsh actor Christian Bale as Jim. It was sung by James Rainbird. See more »


In one scene in the American barracks in the POW camp, one prisoner is heard playing the tune "I Left My Love" on the harmonica. The tune is from the 1959 film The Horse Soldiers and was composed specifically for that film by songwriter Stan Jones, who also had a cameo in it. 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 Spielberg on Spielberg (2007) 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

Brilliant and Amazing
9 January 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Empire of the Sun is about a wealthy British boy living in British controlled states of China during WW2. He is torn from his parents and placed in a camp for British citizens. He tries to find a way to connect the good of his old life to the good life in the camp and a life filled with war, but finds that no matter what there is no good out of war. This is an amazingly underrated film that should be watched by a mature, attentive person. This film is laced with compassion and power put in one. A must see for war buffs (or for Spielberg buffs). No matter what even if you hate this film, you will have a favorite part. One of Spielberg greatest films ever made (personally his greatest). 10/10

80 of 113 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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