What Stephen King was to '80s, Michael Crichton was to the '90s, with seemingly no book by either prolific author spared from from becoming a movie. Looking back, it almost seems like each weekend saw a new Crichton flick in theaters. From the dinosaur adventure 'Jurassic Park,' to the sexual politics of 'Disclosure,' to the camp thrills of 'Congo,' Crichton's name on the poster seemed to guarantee a blockbuster opening weekend, no matter if the movie was good or not. One of his lower rung (and now largely forgotten) efforts was 'Rising Sun,' a fairly routine police procedural only notable for the resounding criticism it received at the time for being Japan-phobic. It may be Crichton's most politically minded thriller to date, but unfortunately he seems more interested in technology than saying anything meaningful about the subject matter, which leaves an unpleasant, exploitative aftertaste. I never saw 'Rising Sun' when it originally hit theaters, but after watching it now for the first time, I have to say that all the controversy it generated for its apparent "Japan bashing" seems justified.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Los Angeles cop/Japanese Liaison officer Lt. Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), who is called to Japan when a "professional mistress" is found dead after attending a party in a new, high-profile office building of a leading Japanese company. It ultimately turns out that the crime was even videotaped, although the contents may not be all that they seem. Eventually, Web is ordered to team up with ornery Detective John Conner (Sean Connery), who knows a thing or two about Japanese customs. But Web and Conner clash badly, as Conner is a shadowy figure from the LAPD and may even be on the take with the Japanese. Along with the bigoted, loud-mouthed Lt. Tom Graham (Harvey Keitel), Web will be schooled in the realities of East/West police relations by two very different mentors.
History may call it the land of the Rising Sun, but according to this movie, it is the land of karaoke, prostitutes and glittering technology. No big surprise coming from Crichton, of course, who cloned dinosaurs from DNA recovered from mosquitoes. But the relentless cliches and stereotypes are shocking. In Crichton's vision, the then still-simmering WWII tensions between our cultures and our growing mistrust of high-technology collide, and the results are no tribute to humanity. But since this is still an American story, told from an American point-of-view and sensibility, even such lazy insertions such as the Keitel character do little to balance out the ugliness. Everyone on either side intimdates, yells and/or threatens each other to the point of absurdity. I assume Crichton wanted to be topical, as there was a time when Americans were terribly afraid of Japanese advancements in finance and technology. Alas, Crichton (at least in movie form) does nothing to illuminate or challenge most of these notions, despite earnest performances from Snipes and Connery, who at least try to find some humanity in all the evil Japanese baiting. There can be a razor-thin line between being "provocative" and "exploitative," and 'Rising Sun' crossed it for me.
At least the whole sabotaged videotape stuff is more intriguing, if only because it seems a bit prescient. Sure, the "cutting-edge" technology on display in 'Rising Sun' now seems quaint, but the central premise of not being able to believe what you see -- and when evidence really can lie -- is great fodder for a police procedural. Unfortunately, I just expected something a bit more perceptive from a movie bearing Crichton's name, as well as that of director Philip Kaufman, a filmmaker I've long admired for such superior efforts as 'Henry & June,' 'Quills' and the vastly underrated 1978 remake of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers.' It is also worth nothing that 'Rising Sun' came out a few years after 'Black Rain,' the Ridley Scott thriller starring Michael Douglas that also took place in Japan and revolved around a crime plot and the clash between an American cop and Japanese culture. 'Rising Sun' makes that movie look like a peace summit -- at least there was a sense of growing respect between the Douglas character and the Japanese culture he found himself thrust into. Alas, with 'Rising Sun,' Crichton and Kaufman ultimately add nothing new to the debate, except some now-dated flashy technology. 'Rising Sun' is not intelligent or perceptive drama, nor is it even a particularly proficient thriller -- it's merely cultural karaoke.
Assessing the quality of 'Rising Sun' is a tough one. Generally speaking, the rule seems to be that the amount of care and concern given to a particular film's home video presentation is directly proportional to its box office. As such, 'Rising Sun' was a hit but not a blockbuster, and gets a transfer to match. Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video, 'Rising Sun' on Blu-ray has an aged appearance, but still looks good. The source is in solid shape, with no print dropouts, blemishes or serious dirt. Appropriate to its vintage grain permeates throughout, but it is consistent and therefore not intrusive.
Colors are probably the weakest aspect of the transfer. Though they are firm and don't bleed or smear, they also lack the vibrancy we're used to on modern masters or better restorations. Primary hues in particular just don't pop, and fleshtones are subdued (and occasionally pinkish). Despite this drawback, however, I was surprised at how strong the sense of depth was to the image. It often looks three dimensional, to the point of exposing some of the now-dated special effect tricks, including some of the worst rear-projection I've seen in a modern, major Hollywood movie (just check out the early scene with Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery driving -- it's hysterically bad). Sharpness also hangs in there, delivering a sharp, fairly detailed presentation. To be sure, 'Rising Sun' is not a fantastic catalog remaster, but despite some faults, it's really not all that bad.
Courtesy of Fox, 'Rising Sun' gets the DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1 treatment, although the film's restrained sound design does not offer particularly rich material for the format. 'Rising Sun' is really more thriller than action movie, and as such is largely front heavy. Channel separation is nice, however, with localized effects often quite noticeable and distinct. When the rears do become engaged, it is mainly for atmospheric sounds (party noise, a bit of score bleed, etc) and now-gimmicky action sounds (the big car chase sequence in particular, and the campy faux-martial arts final fight), although the latter do have plenty of punch. Dialogue is rendered quite well, and I never had to do any volume adjustments to compensate. Technical attributes are also solid, with nice bass response and smooth mid- and high-range.
All we get is the film's theatrical trailer, plus previews for a couple of fellow Fox Blu-ray titles. Happily the clips are all in 1080p, although 'Rising Sun's trailer is awfully grainy.
'Rising Sun' is a surprisingly adult thriller, although I don't know how well it holds up a dozen years on. This Blu-ray release also has a dated feel -- the transfer and soundtrack are good for a catalog title but not exceptional, and there are no real extras. Best I can do is recommend this one as a rental if you're looking for something fresh to feed your Blu-ray player.