Taglines: To survive in a world at war, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.
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.
Empire of the Sun is a 1987 American epic coming-of-age war film based on J. G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Steven Spielberg directed the film, which stars Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, and Nigel Havers. The film tells the story of Jamie “Jim” Graham, a young boy who goes from living in a wealthy British family in Shanghai, to becoming a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp, during World War II.
Harold Becker and David Lean were originally to direct before Spielberg came on board, initially as a producer for Lean. Spielberg was attracted to directing the film because of a personal connection to Lean’s films and World War II topics. He considers it to be his most profound work on “the loss of innocence”. The film received critical acclaim but was not initially a box office success, earning only $22,238,696 at the US box office, but it eventually more than recouped its budget through revenues in other markets.
About the Story
Amidst Japan’s invasion of China during World War II, Jamie Graham—a British upper middle class schoolboy—is enjoying a privileged and spoiled life in the Shanghai International Settlement. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese begin to occupy the settlement, and in the ensuing chaos, Jamie is separated from his parents. Jamie’s mother shouts at him over the panicked mob to wait at their house and promises that they will come back for him. He spends some time living in his deserted home, but after eating all the food he ventures out into the city.
Hungry, Jamie tries to surrender to some Japanese soldiers, who shrug and laugh him off. After being chased by a street urchin, he is taken in by Basie—an American expatriate and hustler—and his partner Frank, who nicknames him “Jim”. They intend to leave the boy in the streets when they are unable to sell his teeth for cash, but Jamie promises to lead them back to his neighborhood where there are valuables to loot. There, Jamie finds his house lit and sees a figure in the window whom he thinks is his mother. He runs to the door only to discover the house is occupied by Japanese troops, who take the trio prisoner.
They are then taken to Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center in Shanghai for processing. A truck later arrives to take selected internees to the Suzhou Creek Internment Camp; Basie is among those selected to go but Jamie is not. Because he knows of the camp’s location, a desperate Jamie convinces the soldiers to take him. On arrival at the camp Jim wanders to the airfield to witness workers servicing a squadron of Zero fighters. As Jim reaches out to touch one he is confronted by a trio of fighter pilots. Jim salutes the pilots, and they salute Jim in return.
It is now 1945, nearing the end of the Pacific War. Despite the terror and poor living conditions of the camp, Jim survives by establishing a successful trading network—which even involves the camp’s commander, Sergeant Nagata. Dr. Rawlins, the camp’s British doctor, becomes a father figure and teacher to Jim. One night after a bombing raid, Nagata orders the destruction of the prisoners’ infirmary as reprisal. He only stops when Jim (now fluent in Japanese) begs forgiveness.
Through the barbed wire fencing, Jim befriends a Japanese teenager, who is a trainee pilot. Jim also visits Basie in the American POW barracks, where Jim idolizes the Americans and their culture. Basie eventually sends Jim to set snare traps outside the camp’s wire; though Jim succeeds, Basie is only using him to test the area for land mines—plotting to escape. As a reward, Basie allows Jim to move into the American barracks with him.
One morning at dawn, Jim witnesses a kamikaze ritual. Overcome with emotion, he salutes and sings the Welsh song “Suo Gân”. The base is suddenly attacked by a group of American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft. Jim is overjoyed and climbs the ruins of a nearby pagoda to better watch the airstrike. Dr. Rawlins chases Jim up the pagoda to save him, where the boy breaks down in tears—he cannot remember what his parents look like. As a result of the attack the Japanese decide to evacuate the camp. Basie escapes during the confusion, though he had promised to take Jim with him. The camp’s prisoners march through the wilderness where many die of fatigue, starvation, and disease.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano, Leslie Phillips, Ben Stiller, Emily Richard, Masatô Ibu, Takatarô Kataoka
Screenplay by: Tom Stoppard
Production Design by: Norman Reynolds
Cinematography by: Allen Daviau
Film Editing by: Michael Kahn
Costume Design by: Bob Ringwood
Set Decoration by: Harry Cordwell, Michael Ford
Art Direction by: Charles Bishop, Fred Hole, Rick Carter
Music by: ohn Williams
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: December 25, 1987