Skip to main content

They think we’re stupid. They think we’re corrupt. And they’re not often wrong.


Rising Sun
(1993)

I probably give Rising Sun an easier ride than it deserves. It isn’t really much cop even as a murder mystery (it certainly fails to deliver a satisfying resolution) and the attempts to dilute Michael Crichton’s paranoid, xenophobic message about the encroaching Japanese are only partially successful. It also lacks a sufficiently intriguing plot to justify its excessive length. But, as iffy and unlikely as much of the movie is, and riddled with plotholes, I do find it vaguely entertaining.


Much of that is down to Sean Connery, whose wigmaker was trying out ever more daring variations on a theme by this point. It’s quite clear why he executive produced (aside from Crichton apparently writing the character with him in mind); he is burdened by the terrible sacrifice of having to play golf on camera at every opportunity.


Here, he once again adopts the wise mentor role (or Sempai to Snipes’ Kohai; apparently Crichton misinterpreted these terms but that should probably come as little surprise). It’s fun to see him one step ahead, leading an investigation. Although the last time he did so was in the vastly superior The Name of the Rose. And it’s enormous fun to see him fell his opponents with merely a thumb. He can even run much more convincingly than Harrison Ford when he reached the age Sean is here. I’m doubtful that his attempts at speaking Japanese would pass muster, although he hardly has a strong track record at dialects. You don’t buy for a moment that he’d command maximum respect, but he solves that problem by just being Sean Connery. This was also his chance to atone for being turned Japanese in You Only Live Twice. He doesn’t quite do so but at least nominally, as the American/European who has become enamoured by the culture, he’s there to present a respectful insight into an “alien” world.


Which is essentially the problem. For all Phillip Kaufman’s attempts to wrestle the novel/screenplay into a more respectable shape, this comes from a place where the Japanese are an intimidating force, set to gain dominion over the US; not through war but rather superior technology and a ready supply of readies. They can buy anything, and for that they should be met with suspicion and mistrust. They have different customs and different sensibilities. They’re not like us, dammit! I haven’t read Crichton’s novel, so perhaps I’m speaking out of turn (really, though, the source material should be neither here nor there in terms of whether a film is successful), but, even with the greater emphasis on the murder that takes place in the screenplay, it’s clear Crichton’s premise is based on difference. He’s not here as peacemaker, drawing attention to commonalities. Kaufman tries to parry the pointed criticisms of Japanese attitudes and culture (we spend a scene hearing about Tia Carrere’s “shameful” deformity) by foregrounding the very discussion of accusations of racism that met the picture; Snipes repeatedly rejects any suggestion that he is subordinate to Connery (“Mas’r wants me to get the car”) and an attempt is made to undermine the investigation by accusing him of being racist.


Given the adaptation came from Fox, it should perhaps be surprising that attempts were made to make this less controversial. But Murdoch’s empire is nothing if not canny (or, it was anyway). If you’re getting too much bad press about borderline racism, the only response is practical cynicism. Out goes the white Caucasian of the book and in comes Wesley Snipes. That way, even if it looks like there’s intolerance in the mix you can put an African American face to it. Presto, diffused tensions. Screenwriters Crichton and Michael Backes were said to have disagreed vehemently with Kaufman over this, and departed the production post haste.


Snipes isn’t quite at ease playing second fiddle to Connery, and they make a highly unlikely pair of cops, although they’re less of an odd couple than many of the Scot’s teamings during that period. Snipes possibly has too much energy, and only really looks happy when he’s launching into a dust-up. Then there’s the choice to have Sean hide out in the ‘hood with him; it’s the kind of blatant stereotyping Wesley ought to have been shame-faced over (and purely logically, are we supposed to believe a cop would be so readily protected by his one-time homies?) Later, when the movie drops any aspirations towards the fineries of detective work and settles on pugilism, Wesley pulls moves that wouldn’t be out of place in Demolition Man, released a few months later.


Talk of the action leads me back to Kaufman, and the question of what he was doing coming on board in the first place. I can only think, given his surrounding career, it amounted to the old necessity: bankability. Crichton had experienced a significant resurgence at the time (although Spielberg had the real hit that off one of his novels that summer) and hitching your ride to a sure thing probably looked like good sense on paper. To your agent. Maybe Kaufman thought it would be a challenge to turn something so reactionary into a more balanced rumination on cultural exchange? I’d be interested to hear who came up with the anecdote about a Japanese buy-out that was rejected by the US on national interest grounds, only for it to be subsequently sold to different (but this time white European) foreigners. Culture clash can be fascinating, but only if its intentions are balanced. Kaufman can’t hope to right his ship, so he hopes skewering the emphasis in favour of twists and techno turns, and lashings of sex (his recent, and subsequent, preoccupation) will soften things. At least, that’s my assumption. Nothing he’s done, except for 2004’s Twisted, leads me to think he’s less than an astute director. It’s just that this time he finds himself having to scoop the water from a sinking ship with a ladle.


The plot concerns a murder at Japanese corporation during a soiree for a big potential deal (the purchase of Micro Con). A high-class hooker is the victim, and when the police are called in it becomes clear that vital evidence has been removed. Snipes’ Webster “Webb” Smith receives a snappy education in Japanese mores by Connery’s John Connor (no, not that one). Along the way we meet the possibly violent boss’s son Eddie (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, trying a bit too hard), the local head of the corp Yoshida-san (Mako), a dubious US senator set to shout “Laura!!!” at the drop of a hat (Ray Wise), a Japanese tech whizz whose father was African American (Tia Carrere, who is of Filipino, Spanish and Chinese descent), a weasely reporter known as the Weasel (Steve Buscemi, in little more than a cameo, looking like he’s barely out of nappies), and Harvey Keitel as another cop; he’s the obligatory one who doesn’t like the Japanese. You know, they come over and steal our everything, etc. Harvey’s strictly cashing cheques, but he’s still good value; the film’s worth watching just for a scene between him and Connery.


I do like the way Kaufman paces his picture. He won’t be hurried, and the movie is frequently pleasurable enough just in terms of the sound (Toru Takemitsu’s score) and images (Michael Chapman’s cinematography). Indeed, you can all but feel the director’s dismay when he’s forced to succumb to the demands of final act thriller tropes. The last half hour (which changes the murderer from the novel) is by far the weakest section, as the motivations are, if not muddled, insufficiently defined (there is even a pointed suggestion that the murder has not been solved, such is the inscrutability of the suspects). And by this point we’ve already moved far from the procedural aspects of investigating the new technologies that are just around the corner (a laser disc smaller than a DVD! Which can record 12 hours of footage! Cutting off heads and rearranging them!)


The down side of Kaufman nursing his material is the expectancy that, given time, he will unveil some substance to make it all worthwhile. But Rising Sun is essentially shallow, and this isn’t something he’s used to. At times it feels like he’s shining a torch into an empty crate. The murder mystery falters because, like a bad take on Agatha Christie, the red herrings are over-stated (Eddie, right there in the first scene) and the suspects lack even the two-dimensional definition of a Poirot mystery. And there are also pointless attempts to play clever with the structure; the flashbacks/forwards involving Webb are particular offenders.


So yes, this is a bit of a botch. Despite Kaufman’s honourable attempts it’s riddled with Crichton’s assumption of God-given judgmentalism towards other nations. One might sympathise that he was merely reflecting his nation’s basic aggressive posture, so he can’t be blamed completely for casting the first stone. But I don’t feel inclined to cut him any slack. And, since his fevered premonitions of dominion came to nothing, he’s the one who ends up looking silly over his demented prognosis. But I quite like Rising Sun for all that. It’s a messy curiosity, struggling between unseemly source material and its maker’s efforts to be reasonable.

**1/2


Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

You’re going to make me drop a donkey.

Encanto (2021) (SPOILERS) By my estimation, Disney brand pictures are currently edging ahead of the Pixars. Not that there’s a whole lot in it, since neither have been at full wattage for a few years now. Raya and the Last Dragon and now Encanto are collectively just about superior to Soul and Luca . Generally, the animation arm’s attempts to take in as much cultural representation as they possibly can, to make up for their historic lack of woke quotas, has – ironically – had the effect of homogenising the product to whole new levels. So here we have Colombia, renowned the world over for the US’s benign intervention in their region, not to mention providing the CIA with subsistence income, beneficently showered with gifts from the US’s greatest artistic benefactor.

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

He has dubiety about his identity, possibly.

The Tender Bar (2021) (SPOILERS) George continues to flog his dead horse of a directorial career. It has to be admitted, however, that he goes less astray here than with anything he’s called the shots on in a decade ( Suburbicon may be a better movie overall, but the parts that grind metal are all ones Clooney grafted onto the Coen Brothers’ screenplay). For starters, he gives Batffleck a role where he can shine, and I’d given up on that being possible. Some of the other casting stretches credulity, but by setting his sights modestly, he makes The Tender Bar passably slight for the most part.

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

What would you do with a diseased little island?

28 Days Later (2002) (SPOILERS) Evolution’s a nasty business. If not for its baleful influence, all those genetically similar apes – or bats – would be unable to transmit deadly lab-made viruses to humans and cause a zombie plague. Thank the lord we’ve got science on our side, to save us from such scientifically approved, stamped and certified terrors. Does Danny Boyle believe in the programming he expounds? As in, is he as aware of 28 Days Later ’s enforcement of the prescribed paradigm in the same manner as the product placement he oversees in every other frame of the movie (and yes, he could have chosen the Alex Cox option for the latter; it would at least have shown some wit)?

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.