Empire of the Sun



           Learned a new word today. Atom bomb. It was like the God taking a photograph.


The idyllic childhood of a young English schoolboy, Jamie Graham, living with his rich parents in a luxurious Shanghai suburb comes to an abrupt end in 1941 when the Empire of Japan, having more or less occupied China since 1937, declared war against United States, Great Britain and Holland.

Jamie is separated from his parents, who are evacuated. He spends some months living in his deserted house, living on the remnants of packaged food. He ventures into Shanghai and finds it bustling with Japanese troops who ignore his attempts at surrender. Eventually, he falls in with an American, Basie (Malkovich), who renames him "Jim," and when they are captured, Jim uses great ingenuity to stay with Basie. They are taken to Soochow Creek Intemment camp where they are put to work constructing a runway for the Japanese air force. In one dreamlike sequence, Jim wanders away from the group and finds several Japanese zero fighter aircraft and their proud pilots.

The story then jumps ahead to 1945, a few months before the end of the Pacific campaign of the war. Jim is now about 13 or 14 years old and has eked out a good living, despite the poor conditions of the camp. He has an extensive trading network, involving even the camp's commanding officer, Sergeant Nagata, from whom he casually steals a bar of soap. He is being schooled by the camp's British doctor, Dr. Rawlins, (Nigel Havers) who has a difficult time teaching Jim humility. Through the barbwired fencing of the camp, Jim "befriends" a Japanese teenager who also dreams of becoming a pilot.

Jim still idolizes Basie and visits him in the American men's barracks. He is attracted to the Americans, whose relaxed good nature contrasts starkly with their dull British counterparts. Jim hopes to move into the American men's barracks. Jim later rescues Dr. Rawlins from a beating by Sgt. Nagata, by delivering a humble speech to the sergeant in Japanese. The doctor gives Jim a pair of golf shoes as a reward.

Basie charges him with setting snare traps outside the wire of the camp to catch wild pheasents that Basie claims have been roosting there. Jim creeps into the marsh undetected, but the golf shoes he left behind are discovered by Nagata, who tromps into the marsh to find the owner. Just as Nagata is about to find Jim, he is distracted by the Japanese boy from the air base on the other side of the wire and Jim escapes detection. As a reward, Basie allows him to move into the American barracks with him.

Meanwhile, Basie has been plotting to escape the camp. Basie's callous private reason for sending Jim into the marsh had been to test the area for mines. Nagata makes an unexpected visit to Basie's corner of the barracks and finds some soap that Jim had earlier stolen. Basie is beaten, and spends several days in the infirmary. The other men steal Basie's possessions and Jim leaves the American men's barracks in shame.

One morning at dawn, Jim witnesses a kamikaze ritual of three Japanese pilots at the air base. Overcome with emotion at the solemnity of the ceremony he begins to sing the same Welsh hymn he sang as a choir boy in Shanghai. As the pilots take off on their suicide mission, the base is suddenly attacked by a small number of P-51 mustang. He runs to the roof of a building, where he sees one of the pilots wave at him. Excited, he begins to cheer them on. Dr Rawlins finds Jim on the roof oblivious to the danger of the bombs. Jim turns to the doctor and starts talking to him in a highly emotional and excited state that verges on hysteria. The event seems to have an impact on Jim that brings about a type of mental breakdown. Rawlins sharply brings Jim back to reality by telling him "not to think so much."

The Japanese decide to evacuate the camp. Running to tell Basie the news, Jim is devastated to find that Basie has already escaped with another American, Dainty. Meanwhile, the last remaining Zero fails to start and take off, the improvised pilot being the friendly Japanese teenager, who breaks down in tears, ashamed.

The camp's population begins a grueling march to Nantow where they are told there will be food. Many die along the way, including Mrs. Victor, a British woman who was Jim's "neighbour" at Soochow. As Jim sits with her body among the war spoils stored in Nantow Stadium by the Japanese, he sees a bright light in the sky to the East. He believes it to be Mrs. Victor's soul floating to heaven but finds out later, through a radio broadcast, that it was the flash from one of the aatomic bombs dropped on Japan, hundreds of miles away.

Starving and weak, Jim trudges back to the camp at Soochow. Making his way through rice paddies, he notices cylindrical objects attached to parachutes falling from the sky. They contain red cross relief packages and food items. Jim fills a parachute with supplies and arrives at the camp. He finds the same young Japanese boy he knew from his internment deliriously and angrily slashing at the plants in the marsh with his Katana. The boy calms down and offers Jim a mango and begins to cut it with his sword, but is shot dead by one of Basie's companions, who have arrived to loot the Red Cross containers. Jim is furious and throws the man who shot his friend into the marsh and begins to beat him. Basie drags him off and promises to take him back to Shanghai and find his parents. Jim refuses the offer and stays behind.

Jim is found by a unit of American soldiers. He is sent back to Shanghai and housed with other children who have lost their parents. Jim, obviously more scarred by his experiences during the war than the other kids, does not recognize his parents when they arrive at the home and they scarcely recognize him. The paralysis is broken when his mother finds him in the crowd. Jim collapses into his mother's arms,the nightmare having finally ended..


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Movie Script

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy
Frank Marshall
Steven Spielberg
Written by J. G. Ballard (novel)
Tom Stoppard
Menno Meyjes
Starring Christian Bale
John Malkovich
Miranda Richardson
Nigel Havers
Music by John Williams
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Amblin Entertainment
Release date(s) December 9, 1987
Running time 154 min.
Language English
Budget $38,000,000







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