American-born Agnes Keith (Colbert) and her British husband Harry Keith (Patric Knowles) live a comfortable colonial life in North Borneo with their young son George in the 1930s. Keith is the only American in Sandakan.
Borneo was strategically important to Japan as it is located on the main sea routes between Java, Sumatra, Malaya and Celebes. Control of these routes was vital to securing the territory. Japan needed an assured supply, particularly of oil, in order to achieve its long-term goal of becoming the major power in the Pacific region.
Worried about the rumours surrounding Japanese invasion in 1941, Harry suggests that Agnes move back to the United States along with George. Agnes refuses and she and George remain.
The Imperial Japanese Army invade Borneo and intern the small British community in a camp on Pulau Berhala island off Sandakan. Later they are sent to the notorious Batu Lintang camp near Kuching, Sarawak, where the men and women are separated.
During the Japanese invasion of Sandakan, Agnes has a miscarriage.
These camps are under the charge of Colonel Suga (Sessue Hayakawa). Col. Suga is fluent in English and has read a book on Borneo written by Mrs. Keith. He treats Agnes well.
When Col. Suga visits Agnes at Batu Lintang camp and asks her to autograph a copy of her book as she had agreed to back in the earlier camp. Agnes signs the book with a personal message.
The camp guards are cruel and oppressive, as seen when they shoot down a group of Australian men who try to cross the wire fencing during a bit of flirtation with the women.
One night a Japanese guard attacks Agnes in an attempted rape when she runs outside in the night to bring in the washing being blown around in the strong winds. Later she complains to Col. Suga, who asks Lieutenant Nekata to investigate. Unfortunately Agnes is not able to identify her assailant as it was too dark. Nekata insists she identify the assailant by presenting her with a written statement for her to sign. She refuses to do so as she is aware that to make an unsubstantiated accusation against any Japanese soldier is punishable by death. In an effort to get her to sign the statement while Col. Suga is away she is tortured by Nekata's junior officers (after he has left the room, to avoid being a witness to the beating) and threatened with further torture if she says anything to anyone. In great pain she tries to keep her injuries from her fellow captives. Eventually she agrees to withdraw her allegation.
In September 1945 Japan surrenders and Agnes learns from Col. Suga that all his family was killed at the end of the war. They used to live in Tokyo but his wife was so fearful that they moved to Hiroshima where she thought they would be safer. Col. Suga sees George and two other children eating from a paint can, and he invites them into his house, where he serves them a feast and then breaks down crying.
At the end, Allied troops arrive at the camp abandoned by the Japanese and the Keith family finally reunites.
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