During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, an eight-year-old Tamil boy is separated from his father, forced to work for the Kempeitai and renamed Nanban. From Lieutenant Kurosawa Takeshi, he learns their language and customs, studies their martial arts and prays to their Emperor. While watching the cruelty with which the Imperial Army rules Singapore, Nanban becomes just as ruthless to survive.
Twenty years later, a young misfit strives to make a successful living as a seamstress. Papatti is swept up in her ambition, trying to drum up crowds and get featured in the national newspapers, when she meets a cunning politician and an eager dockworker who both try to win her attention. Then she is faced with a harrowing loss, and is forced to find her place in a new world.
Over decades of tempestuous history, the lives of Nanban, Papatti and Lieutenant Kurosawa intertwine in surprising and powerful ways, and beg the question: how is reconciliation possible in the face of war and heartbreak?