Thursday 29 October 2015

Movie Review: Rising Sun (1993)

A disorganized murder thriller, Rising Sun attempts to inject cross-cultural corporate commentary into the story of a sordid death that occurs during a boardroom sex session. The result is a high quality but rather convoluted mess.

In Los Angeles, a large Japanese corporation is negotiating the takeover of a US tech company. The deal has political ramifications and Senator John Morton (Ray Wise) comes out strongly in opposition. During a lavish corporate reception hosted by the Japanese, escort girl Cheryl Austin (Tatjana Patitz) ends us dead after having kinky sex with an unidentified man on the boardroom table. Cheryl was the girlfriend-of-sorts of Eddie Sakamura (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the son of one of the senior Japanese tycoons involved in the negotiations.

Lieutenant Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), a police liaison for foreign dignitaries, and Captain John Connor (Sean Connery), an expert in Japanese culture, are called in to help Lieutenant Tom Graham (Harvey Keitel) investigate the death. Web and John soon obtain a surveillance disc recording of Cheryl's death, and the visual evidence appears to implicate Eddie. But John senses a greater conspiracy, and recruits tech geek Jingo Asakuma (Tia Carrere) to prove that the disc has been altered. Eddie anyway finds himself on the run, while John and Web uncover a dense plot involving an internal power struggle and an attempt to influence the high-stakes negotiations.

An adaptation of the Michael Crichton book directed by Philip Kaufman, Rising Sun looks good and features watchable stars delivering smooth performances. Sean Connery as a detective who marches to his own drum with a deep appreciation for all things Japanese immediately elevates the proceedings, while Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel and Tia Carrere are never less than dependable. Plenty of rain and a glistening nighttime Los Angeles add an attractive aesthetic.

But as a plot, the film unravel rather quickly, and thanks to a flabby script it loses focus with remarkable ease. A lot of what may have worked as a book does not connect on the screen, and Kaufman is never able to find a human hook to any of the sprawling plot elements. Overlong at 125 minutes, the film starts turning in circles and as more of the conspiracy is revealed, less of it makes sense. Entire sub-plots are unnecessarily introduced and abandoned, including Steve Buscemi showing up late as a reporter delving into Web's past, and disappearing just as abruptly. By the end, minor characters come to the fore with no explanation, most of the loose threads are left dangling, a few Yakuza types show up to settle scores, and everyone goes back to work.

There are a few most unconvincing attempts to give Web a family life, while very little is known about John Connor. Kaufman inserts plenty of dialogue about the differences between Japanese and US culture, often intercut with scenes of misery on LA streets. While there is thoughtful material about the various forms of racism and observations on east meeting west, it's only the Americans who provide commentary. In a film purportedly about two cultures, all the Japanese remain poorly defined as stock characters.

Part buddy movie, part us-versus-them, part murder mystery laced with titillating sex, part corporate intrigue, and part Yakuza action thriller, Rising Sun throws everything at the well. Some of it sticks, but not much of it rises.

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