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Ah, the summer of 1993. For author Michael Crichton, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Copies of his books--including reprints of his earlier novels--were flying off store shelves, and Jurassic Park was on its way to quickly becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time. But then came Philip Kaufman's adaptation of Rising Sun, Crichton's 1992 bestseller about a murder at the Los Angeles headquarters of a Japanese corporation and the ensuing investigation. Seems Crichton was none too pleased with the changes Kaufman made to his story and distanced himself from the project. Can't really say I blame him.
After a young woman is murdered in the boardroom of the Nakamoto Corporation, Lieutenant Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), Special Liaison Officer to the Japanese community in Los Angeles, is called in to assist with the investigation. Partnered with Smith is John Conner (Sean Connery), a former detective who has spent much of his life studying Japanese culture and business tactics. Smith and Conner's investigation meets resistance from the Nakamoto bigwigs, who believe publicizing the crime will negatively impact the merger negotiations in which they are currently embroiled. After discovering that surveillance camera footage of the crime has been digitally manipulated, Smith and Conner begin to suspect that the roots of the crime run deeper than they originally thought.
As far as adaptations of Michael Crichton books go, Rising Sun sits somewhere in the middle quality-wise. It's no Jurassic Park or The Andromeda Strain, but thankfully it's no Sphere or Congo. The big flaw in the movie is its focus. The book was essentially a murder-mystery shoehorned into a polemic on the ruthless, war-like nature of Japanese big business. Unfortunately, the movie focuses more on the mystery and less on the business aspects of the story. That wouldn't be a problem if the mystery were actually interesting, but it's really not. Crichton is no great shakes as a writer, but he can be a serviceable storyteller, and quite often what makes his novels palatable is the detail that is born out of his research. If you strip away that detail, the substandard nature of the plot is revealed, and that is the case with this movie.
Kaufman makes several other missteps along the way. First off, he injects some unnecessary, unfunny comic relief into the story (Snipes's "massa" crack simply doesn't belong in the movie; then again, Snipes it totally wrong for the role). The nature of the relationship between Connery and the character played by Tia Carrere doesn't make much sense (the relationship seems to exist for the sole sake of setting up the movie's punchline). The big car chase in the middle of the movie is ridiculous, as is the handy exposition provided by the reporter covering the crash scene. The sequence in which Snipes and Connery give the slip to the Yakuza while driving through the 'hood is laughably bad (dig those gangsta stereotypes!). But the bit that takes the cake is the climactic action sequence, with Snipes and Connery kung fu fighting with those same Yakuza (who always seem to appear out of nowhere, and at just the right time too). The pacing is also a problem; given the nature of the story, you would expect the movie to proceed with force and purpose, but it spends far too much time just meandering along.
As is usually case with any movie that depends on cutting edge technology to drive its plot, time hasn't been kind to Rising Sun. The high tech surveillance equipment in the Nakamoto offices would today quite possibly be put to shame by the security cameras you'll find in a local convenience store. And the manipulation of the image on the surveillance disc (what a weird concept that seemed a decade ago) could now be performed by any elementary school kid with access to editing software. Somebody once said that nothing ages faster than someone's view of the future, and that somebody was correct.
Much was made of two changes Kaufman made to the original story: changing the race of the Smith character and changing the identity of the killer. Crichton was criticized as being a racist in some circles for objecting to making Smith African-American (he retorted by stating the character was partially inspired by a black police officer), but that's misguided. The book is fairly explicit in asserting that the Japanese would not accept a black liaison, and the movie even drops hints that they have no love for people of color. I have no idea if this is actually true or not, but it is a rather important component of the story, and diluting it smacks of being politically correct simply for the sake of being politically correct. Even more egregious is the change made regarding the identity of the killer. Yes, it was foolish to do it at all, but Kaufman didn't even bother to reshape the rest of the material to fit the revision. The movie builds to pretty much the same reveal the book contains, with the alleged murderer hanging his head in shame as he is dressed down by his superior and shunned by his colleagues, but then Kaufman has the character suddenly break out of his funk and point out the true killer. It's a ridiculous moment, as is the entire sequence which follows (the aforementioned goofy martial arts battle). The decision to alter the plot is one thing (I don't mind changes made to source material if the changes actually work), but the half-assed manner in which Kaufman does it simply adds insult to injury.
The 1.85:1 transfer (encoded with the AVC codec at 18 Mbps) is a mixed bag. Brightly lit scenes and exterior shots can look very good, but a few of the darker scenes are somewhat marred by a lack of detail and an overall flat appearance. Digital noise is noticeable on a handful of occasions, and the source elements had obviously experienced a bit of wear and tear.
The DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track is also somewhat uneven. Dialogue is always intelligible, and there's a nice spread across the front soundstage, but the low end is weak and the surrounds (which are only sparingly used) aren't integrated into the mix very well. French Dolby Surround and Spanish Stereo tracks are also included, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra is the movie's theatrical trailer.
Rising Sun wasn't very good to begin with, and it certainly hasn't improved over the years. I suggest you skip this one altogether.