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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)
1,971 ( 471)
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?


It was David Lean who first suggested Nigel Havers for the role of Dr. Rawlins. See more »


In the establishing shot of the film's final scene, set in the glasshouse, the top deck of a modern British double-decker bus can be seen moving along behind a wall in the background at top right. 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 A Boy Ten Feet Tall (1963) See more »


Lyrics by Eric Maschwitz and music by Manning Sherwin
Performed by Elizabeth Welch
Courtesy of EMI Records Limited
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Extraordinary performance from Christian Bale
31 May 2004 | by (Toronto, Canada) – See all my reviews

I had put off watching this until recently, I do not know why, I had not read reviews and for some reason imagined it to be a movie about a young Japanese prince(!!).

I was captivated by the performance of Christian Bale as a privileged young boy named Jim Graham, growing up in Shanghai, very far removed from the poverty and despair all around him. When war breaks out, this changes him forever and hence the story.

After some harrowing experiences he winds up in a prisoner of war camp where he befriends some interesting characters and quickly adapts to a life of conniving and subterfuge to survive.

The transformation of Jim is beautifully captured, Steven Spielberg is a gifted director of child actors and gets a maximum performance always.

I was enthralled from beginning to end, young Jim was forever changed by his experiences and this change is portrayed starkly here when he is finally reunited with his parents.

8 out of 10 for equally impressive performances from John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson, but Christian Bale's performance deserved an Oscar.

76 of 94 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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