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


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.