Posted by: gdevi | August 16, 2011

Movie Review: Rising Sun (1993)

The Japanese are at it again, that is, they were at it again, back in 1993. I just came to know about it a little while ago when I watched Phiip Kaufmann’s Rising Sun based on a Michael Crichton novel. Not only are they buying up American corporations left and right and inventing all kinds of technological voodoo making robots to trim your lawn and thus take American jobs away from illegal Mexican immigrants in LA,  but they are also burying American thugs they don’t like in big cement foundations for those LA skyscrapers while eating sushi off the belly of naked American blondes and sipping sake off of the nipples of said American woman’s pal. Japanese gangsters like threesomes. Exploiting our natural resources, as Harvey Keitel’s bigoted police inspector Lt. Graham snarls. Alleged Japanese perversions form a big part of Rising Sun, but it also tries to provide a running ethnographic commentary on less perverse and more “traditional” Japanese values through the character of Lt. Connor or “Connor san” played smugly by Sean Connery. Unlike Lt. Graham and Lt. Web played by Wesley Snipes ( I saw the movie only because of Snipes and Keitel), Lt. Connor has spent some time in Japan and knows what makes them tick. Some of these traditional sacred Japanese cows include keeping your hands to your sides–the Japanese are scared of sudden arm movements, Connor tells Web; remove your shoes when you enter a Japanese home; bow as low and for the same length of time as the Japanese do; talk quietly; take the fall for your boss; beware of Japanese man with sword etc. That is the problem with this movie; in order to show us that ultimately the Japanese are just like us, and we are the touchstone for what is normal, they have to show the Japanese sub-culture in the US as rich and creepy. Mirror, mirror on the wall etc.

The movie opens with the murder of a young escort Cheryl in the 46th floor board room of Nakamoto Towers, the center of Japanese corporate power in LA. It is so pathetic that we have to keep on seeing naked young women subjected to violent sex on screen–in this case the escort is characterized as one who likes to get her kicks while being strangulated; bravo Michael Crichton!!!–and this scene is played again and again and again as the police, the politicians, the forensics, the digital techs and I don’t know who else “works” with this image views the video of this rough sex which was taped by the corporation’s security cameras. That means us, really, the audience, millions of people all over the world. Stop, Hollywood. Why are we still killing women so violently on screen?  The social conscience commentary is articulated by Lt. Web who becomes absolutely indignant when the Japanese head honcho refers to the woman as “of no importance.” The whole movie is to find justice for this woman’s death. I can’t say this indignation is warming the cockles of my heart.  Really, Michael Crichton and Philip Kaufmann, if you are so upset over women violated on screen, it is very easy to stop it, just don’t strip a woman on camera, don’t make a man violently assault her, don’t film her being strangulated with a smile. Find a story that does not involve snuff.

There are many twists and turns in the plot which involve all kinds of double-crossings and betrayals and a US politician. As with movies of such nature, we find that there are good bad Japanese and bad bad Japanese. For instance, the Japanese eating sushi and sipping sake from the body of naked American women turn out to be not bad bad Japanese. The bad bad Japanese are the suits in the boardroom who will murder to profit corporate acquisitions and mergers.  It is like Rupert Murdoch saying how bad corporations are. And if women’s bodies are treated like a buffet table it just goes to show how bad capitalism is. You didn’t know that, did you?

I have always liked Wesley Snipes and Harvey Keitel and they both deliver promised entertainment. Especially Harvey Keitel as the bigoted, even racist, patriotic American policeman who cannot even pronounce Japanese names or Japanese terms correctly.  What is striking about movies like Rising Sun is that even after all these years, there is so much cultural fear in the US regarding the Japanese. They will never become fully American: this fear maintains. Replace the barbed wire Japanese prison camps of WW II movies with an LA sky scraper and the mustachioed Japanese military officer with  the whip by a debonair business man in a suit, and here you have the makings of the contemporary myth of the unscrupulous and cold eastern invasion from the land of the rising sun. Crichton is good at myth-making–look at the franchise spawned by the Jurassic Park series. Stories like Rising Sun are more insidious and hint at other prehistoric repressed fears.



  1. Yeah, that movie captivated me as a teenager until I actually got to know more about Japanese culture (even married a nice Japanese girl) and realized how negative and distorted it was. If you ever want to make another group of people look bad, take a queue from this movie and Michael Crichton’s novel. :p

    The snuff comment is dead-on too. Really, it was excessive and terrible.

    • Thank you. Yes, strange movie, isn’t it? GD.

      • Strange indeed. I even read the novel once.

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