Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Robert Shapiro
Written by J. G. Ballard (novel), Tom Stoppard (screenplay)
Starring Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Allen Daviau
Editing by Michael Kahn
Studio Warner Bros., Amblin Entertainment
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date December 25, 1987
Running time 154 minutes
Country United States
Language English / Japanese / Mandarin
Budget $35 million
Gross revenue $66.24 million
Info & Plot
The Empire of Japan had been at war with China since 1937 before declaring war on the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. During the conflict, Jamie Graham, a British upper middle class schoolboy living in Shanghai, is separated from his parents. He spends some time living in his deserted house and eating remnants of food; eventually, he ventures out into the city and finds it bustling with Japanese troops. Jamie is captured along with Basie, an American sailor, who nicknames him “Jim”. They are taken to Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center in Shanghai; but are eventually moved to Soochow Creek Internment Camp. By 1945, a few months before the end of the Pacific War, Jim has established a good living, despite the poor conditions of the camp. He has an extensive trading network, even involving the camp’s commanding officer, Sergeant Nagata.
Dr. Rawlins, the camp’s British director, becomes a father figure to Jim. Through the barbwire fencing, Jim befriends a Japanese teenager, who shares Jim’s dream of becoming a pilot. Still idolizing Basie, Jim frequently visits him in the American soldiers’ barracks. At one point, Basie charges him to set snare traps outside the wire of the camp and while Jim succeeds, thanks to the help of the Japanese teenager from the other side, the real reason for sending Jim into the marsh was actually to test the area for mines, not to catch game. As a reward, Basie allows him to move into the American barracks with him. Basie then plots to escape.
Nagata visits Basie’s barracks and finds a bar of soap that Jim had stolen earlier. Thinking that Basie had stolen it, Nagata beats him severely. While Basie is in the infirmary, his possessions are stolen by other men in the camp. 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 Welsh song Suo Gân. Later, the camp comes under attack by a group of American P-51 Mustangs. As a result of the attack, the Japanese decide to evacuate the camp, and Basie escapes during the confusion, leaving Jim behind, although he had promised to let Jim come with him. The camp’s population marches through the wilderness, where many die of fatigue, starvation, and disease. During the march Jim witnesses a flash from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki hundreds of miles away, and hears news of Japan’s surrender and the end of the war.
Jim sneaks away from the group and goes back to Soochow Creek, nearly dead from starvation. He finds the Japanese boy he knew earlier, who has since become a pilot and appears distraught at the surrender of his country. The boy remembers Jim and offers him a mango, cutting it for him with his samurai sword. As Jim is about to eat it, Basie reappears with a group of armed Americans, who have arrived to loot the Red Cross containers that were dropped after the Japanese surrender. One of the Americans shoots and kills the Japanese boy. Jim, furious, beats the American who shot his friend. Basie drags him off and promises to take him back to Shanghai to find his parents, but Jim refuses the offer and stays behind. He is found by a unit of American soldiers and put in an orphanage in Shanghai with other children who had lost their parents. When his parents come looking for him, Jim is so scarred from his experiences that he does not recognize them at first. His mother finds him in the crowd, and eventually Jim collapses into her arms.