Friday, May 15, 2015

Movie Review - Rising Sun

Rising Sun
Based on the book by Michael Crichton
Starring: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Kevin Anderson, Mako, Ray Wise, Stan Egi, Stan Shaw, Tia Carrere, Steve Buscemi, Tatjana Patitz, and Michele Ruiz
Release Date: July 30th, 1993
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Lieutenant Web Smith is home with his daughter and mother when he gets a call to come to the Nakamoto Corporate Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles because there is a need for a liaison. Web receives a second call on his way to the crime scene to bring along the retired Captain John Connor who is an expert Japanese liaison. Connor explains to Web that they aren't so much going to a crime scene as the scene of a negotiation. Everything Web knows about police procedure will be thrown out the window while dealing with the Japanese. The Japanese want the case resolved swiftly and they see to it that the conclusion they want reached is easily found. A little too easily. Despite the case being swiftly closed Smith and Connor keep digging, thinking that perhaps the truth of the death of Cheryl Lynn Austin is more important then a quickly solved case. The Japanese do not see their continued investigation as beneficial to their interests and will do anything to stop it, even smear Smith and Connor's names in order to silence them. But with more deaths, threats, and the Yakuza, the cops are quickly learning the hard way that business is war.

Rising Sun is easily one of the better Crichton adaptations out there, and this isn't surprising because Crichton was more actively involved, being one of the co-writers of the script. In fact I would say that the only adaptations of his books worth a damn are the ones he sought to have some control on. Unlike other authors, because of his experience in film, Crichton understands the need to make a good movie instead of slavishly sticking to the book and in the process maintains the spirit of the book as well as creates an enjoyable movie. Having not watched Rising Sun in years I spent a good twenty minutes just in awe of the sheer 90s ness of it all until I became fully sucked into the story. I was also a little shocked that my parents let me watch it when it came out on VHS. Despite having lived through the 90s there's a time capsule quality that this movie represents for me. Those shoulder pads in men's suits! Oh, and those overly pleated pants! Seriously, Sean Connery's pants are flowing in the breeze on that golf course! Is Cheryl Lynn wearing a jumpsuit? Yes she is. But the key sign you're watching an early 90s movie? As my brother says, no movie of this era would be complete without a chase scene through a construction site!

While the film does maintain a fair bit of the hardboiled feel of the book, by not being a period piece it loses the timeless vibe of the source material and decides instead to go for something more bankable, aka, a buddy cop movie. You might not realize at first that you are watching a buddy cop movie, but pay close attention to the dialogue and you can be in no doubt, "sempai, apple pie!" They have taken Lieutenant Smith, who in the book is a questioning but indulgent narrator there to learn from Connor's knowledge and turned him into "Web" Smith, the smart-mouthed sidekick to Sean Connery. While this might seem like a ploy to turn the movie into the next Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon, instead it is just taking the antagonism that is racing through Smith's inner monologue and putting it on the screen in a format movie audiences would recognize versus falling into the trope of using a narrator and then making it cheesier then the theatrical release of Bladerunner. But there is no doubt in this duo that despite the buddy cop trope of the newbie getting the girl that it's really Sean Connery who will have his bed being warmed at the end of the film.

But the change of Smith isn't just about creating a buddy cop dynamic, there's a subtly and cunning in this change. When the book was released the major sticking point for readers was the overtly racist tone of the book. Rising Sun read as an anti-Japanese tract disguised as a thriller. Thankfully it's obvious in this day and age that this would be unacceptable to movie-going audiences. So how do you take source material that is racist and maintain some aspect of this without alienating your audience? You deflect and transform it. Sad as it is to say, but for us Americans we are more familiar with racism when it falls along a strict black and white line. While this is not acceptable, it is more relatable; especially within the buddy cop genre where the dynamic is often to have this pairing of black and white. The black character is more outspoken and not willing to put up with this shit and occasionally uses "massa" ironically or angrily. By having Snipes say such "empowering" things as "No, you get the senator's car! Wrong guy, wrong fucking century!" the movie is putting the "accepted" racism on view for all while casually deflecting the anti-Japanese sentiment of the book.

The biggest example though of making sure this movie wasn't anti-Japanese, besides the fact that they wisely cast Japanese actors, is in the end when the killer is revealed. It comes as no surprise when reading the book that the killer is the representative for the Nakamoto Corporation whom Connor and Smith dealt with the most. But despite keeping this character complicit in the crimes, despite a totally unwarranted name change for the film, he isn't the killer. Instead the killer is a privileged white yuppie. Bob Richmond is the perfect villain. He has aligned himself against his own country and is disgustingly obsequious and rich. Everyone watching the movie can be pleased that this entitled jackass gets what he deserves all while not unnecessarily persecuting the Japanese in a hateful rant like the book. Of course the murderer's actual guilt might be more ambiguous then in the book, but we are still given an ending that won't ruffle any feathers and gives us a satisfying sense of closure.

Though there was one aspect of the book that was lost in translation. While the movie toned down the anti-Japanese sentiment it virtually eliminated the corruption of political officials. In the book Senator Morton is a Kennedy-esque playboy caught up in the murder. He sleeps around, he drinks too much, his vices bring him down. Here though they justify his affair with Cheryl Lynn because he has an invalid wife, and as for the drinking? It's gone. To me the elimination of governmental corruption wasn't done to streamline the movie or to keep our focus. It felt too much like a purposeful omission and it got me to thinking, while it's not wise to harbor anti-Japanese sentiments, it's the politicians that are the true untouchables. Think about it? Right now even the most corrupt of politicians are being considered as viable candidates for the Presidential election next year! While we can "learn" to become accustomed to certain types of racism that they are allowed into our films as the lesser of two evils, say something against a politician and that's the end of you. The double standards of life are here on full display, and once again, if we look for it, we realize that which isn't shown might be the most important.


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