• U.S.

Cultural Confusions

3 minute read
Richard Schickel




THE BOTTOM LINE: The best seller’s passions were misplaced, but in toning them down, the adaptation turns bland.

We open in a Los Angeles karaoke parlor where a Japanese man is crooning Cole Porter’s Don’t Fence Me In. It’s a weird image of cross-cultural confusion, but that’s not the half of it. The video carrying the sing-along words is a Japanese version of Sergio Leone’s first spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars, which was, in turn, a knockoff of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, a samurai epic.

This is smart stuff. For, finally, what is Rising Sun about but the careless ways in which cultural heritages and institutions are bartered in the international marketplace and the confusions that arise from this traffic? Just about everything that’s worth thinking about in Michael Crichton’s novel is wittily and efficiently set forth in this sequence.

There were, however, a couple of things in the book that were unworthy of thought, even by the modest standards of airplane reads. One of these was Crichton’s habit of stopping every 20 pages or so to give a little lecture on the evil genius of Japanese corporate culture. The other was a mystery about an American girl found dead on the boardroom table at a Japanese conglomerate’s American headquarters. This plot was more intricate than it had to be because the author was determined to show that there was nothing in American life that the wily Asiatics could not penetrate and corrupt if they set their minds to it — the Los Angeles police department, of course, but also the U.S. Senate, distinguished universities, even country clubs.

Director Philip Kaufman and Co. have done what they can to lighten this load. The near racist lectures have been trimmed and tightened, and the plot has been twisted so that a Japanese is no longer the murderer. Still, much of the story line must still be tediously pursued, and everybody spends a lot of time sitting around talking about what has happened, is happening or may be about to happen.

It helps that Sean Connery, as a Japanophile detective who yet retains a few interesting Japanophobic tics, is the chief explainer. It also helps that lively Wesley Snipes is the younger man he’s mentoring through this exercise. But it would be nice to see Connery doing something intrinsically interesting instead of trying to make something inherently dull entertaining. And it would be good to see Snipes cut loose more than he is able to here. But that’s the way things go in this cautious adaptation of a “controversial” book. It makes you realize that Crichton’s novel was largely powered by his animus against the Japanese business culture, and perversely, you miss his outrage. With that toned down, Rising Sun turns into just another dispassionate whodunit.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com