WFTB Score: 8/20
The plot: The murder of a good-time girl on the boardroom table of the Nakamoto Corporation casts a shadow over their proposed takeover of American defence company Microcon. LAPD Lieutenant Webb Smith is sent in to investigate, but he’s surprised to find he’s accompanied by long-lost Captain Connor, an expert on Japanese culture and customs. As they look for a guilty party and find one all too easily, they start to wonder whether they are driving the investigation or are being driven to false conclusions.
It’s 1993: the Cold War may be over but fierce battles are still being fought, such as the struggle for control of Microcon being waged on the 46th floor of the Nakamoto Tower. Under the sage gaze of Yoshida-san (Mako), keen young negotiators Ishihara and brash yuppie Bob Richmond (Stan Egi and Kevin Anderson) press for a deal, while Microcon wait to see what Congress will do, specifically whether Senator Morton (Ray Wise) will maintain his opposition to the ‘surrender’ of American defence technology to the Japanese.
Matters become complicated when party girl Cheryl Lynn (Tatjana Patitz) is found strangled to death on the huge negotiating table, bringing LAPD Lieutenants Tom Graham (Harvey Keitel) and Webb Smith (Wesley Snipes) to investigate the grisly crime scene. Before he arrives, however, Webb is diverted to pick up a certain Captain John Connor (Sean Connery), an experienced liaison officer who spent so much time in Japan, some people assumed he had disappeared there permanently.
With Connor taking the senior role of sempai and Smith, grudgingly, his kohai, the pair quickly find a prime suspect in Cheryl’s sometime lover Eddie Sakamura (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), whose face is captured on Nakamoto’s state-of-the-art security discs. However, something about the convenience of the evidence doesn’t sit right with Connor, even when Eddie flees arrest and his sports car explodes in a fatal ball of flame; and as he and Smith continue to investigate, they come up against vested interests who are more than prepared to do a bit of muck-raking. Luckily, they have digital image expert Jingo (Tia Carrere) on their side.
Regardless of where they come from, films should always be regarded on their own merits; but on the very rare occasions that I’ve a) read the book a film is based on, and b) it has some bearing on the review, I’m duty bound to mention it. I have read Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun, and while the film essentially retains the plot of Crichton’s techno-thriller, the transfer from book to screen comes with a number of important additions. Chief amongst these is the casting, the leads Connery and Snipes adding levels of complication to the novel’s key exploration of the conflicts between American and Japanese culture and practice. Connery and Snipes are perfectly fine and quickly develop a cutely comic antagonism, but the explicit inclusion of a Scotsman and an African American only serves to distract from the film’s themes, especially since Webb is narky despite the fact that nobody displays any racism towards him. I say ‘explicit’ because Rising Sun could easily have used the same actors but eschewed the ‘Old Scotland Yard’ and ‘Massa’ references – plus the redundant, if fleetingly amusing, episode in the ‘hood – to concentrate exclusively on plot.
The distractions of Connery and Snipes would also have been readily overcome by fully rounded and coherent plot. Unfortunately, much of the novel’s action is touched on all too lightly, the bits that would have added fluency to the story having been lost during the scriptwriting process or taken out whilst editing. For example, Webb’s introduction is framed around an inquiry which is never fully explained (though, in routine cop-film fashion, it allows Smith and Connor to carry on investigating once he’s been forced to hand in his badge), and his domestic situation isn’t made clear; the shadow of corruption hanging over the police is undercooked, Steve Buscemi’s reporter Willy ‘Weasel’ Wilhelm limited to about three scenes; the political aspects are also underdone, notwithstanding Senator Morton’s rather extreme reaction to bad news. Clearly, a two-hour film can’t hope to replicate all the events of a novel, but Kaufman’s version of Rising Sun chooses to have a half-baked stab at everything rather than remove plot strands that have no mileage (such as the cursory love interest provided by Carrere’s Jingo: Carrere, by the way, is fine, though I look about as Japanese as she does).
I could carry on with the negatives: the action is spread out too thinly and is quickly curtailed when it arrives (the denouement in particular is something of an anti-climax, Snipes’ chop-socky moves cut woefully short); production values are not always the highest (while Webb seems to spend half the film driving, Snipes doesn’t look at the road much); and the radical technology now feels quaint (physical storage media is, like, so 20th Century). On the other hand, at the heart of Rising Sun there’s a strong, sexually-charged tale of mucky corporate shenanigans, a murky tale through which Connery and Snipes wade, Connor ably leading Smith through the mire even though one way or another they’re both up to their necks in it. Accompanying the tale is a fascinating (though how truthful, who knows) glimpse into a still-alien culture, the Japanese approach to personal and business relationships proving a solid backdrop to the mysteries surrounding Eddie and Cheryl Lynn, all backed by a brooding, drum-heavy soundtrack. As for some of the gratuitous nudity, well, you can take it or leave it, but it does give Keitel the opportunity to revel in some shockingly racist fulminations.
Partly because of the changes made to accommodate the talent, partly because of the time-specific story it’s telling, Rising Sun isn’t nearly as effective an adaptation as Jurassic Park or Westworld; and if you’re looking for effective star vehicles, you’ll be better served by Blade or The Rock. Nonetheless, even if the big names pull the story out of shape and cause a number of unsatisfactory loose threads, this is an eminently watchable slice of exotic, oriental spice.