Empire of the Sun (1987)



Director: Steven Spielberg.

Cast: Christian Bale (Jim 'Jamie' Graham), John Malkovich (Basie), Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Victor), Nigel Havers (Dr. Rawlins), Joe Pantoliano (Frank Demarest), Leslie Philips (Maxton), Masato Ibu (Japanese Sgt. Nagata), Emily Richard (Mary Graham, Jim's mother), Rupert Frazer (John Graham, Jim's father), Peter Gale (Mr. Victor),  Ben Stiller (Dainty),  Robert Stephens (Mr. Lockwood),  Takatoro Kataoka (Kamikaze Boy Pilot), David Neidorf (Tiptree), Ralph Seymour (Cohen). 

Based on an autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard.


December 8, 1941.  The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japan attacks Shanghai and a young British boy gets separated from his parents and has to fend for himself.  He is eventually sent to the Soo Chow confinement camp, next to a captured Chinese airfield.  The movie gives a taste of life in internment camps for British and American citizens.

I think the movie is very good.  It is about a young, privileged boy surviving in a hell created by the brutal Japanese during their invasion of China.  It seems at first that the boy is doing relatively well, considering the horrors that have occurred.  (And along the way he meets some pretty colorful characters, such as fellow prisoner of war, the huckster Basie, who becomes Jim's substitute father.) But the damage to the boy is not truly visible to others.  The boy is too busy surviving to be able to relax and be himself.  The damage, however, is clearly visible at the end of the movie, when one can see a glimpse of the toll the horrors have taken on the boy's body and soul. 

The psychological damage war causes on both soldiers and civilians has only been more honestly portrayed more recently.  It's not just the physical scars that are visible, if one takes the time to observe closely the victims of war.   

Christian Bale as the young is boy is marvelous.  John Malkovich as the cynical hustler American Basie is also good.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 







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