When a beautiful American woman is found strangled to death in the boardroom of one of the most prominent Japanese companies in the States, LAPD detective Web Smith (Wesley Snipes) teams up with Captain John Connor (Sean Connery) to investigate the murder. Well-versed in their culture, Connor commands great respect among the Japanese although his enigmatic ways and seemingly ambiguous loyalties rouse the suspicion of his American colleagues. He quickly adopts Smith as a reluctant pupil, schooling him on the proper way to conduct a murder investigation within the rigid corporate environment. Together the detectives unravel a complex conspiracy involving high-tech video manipulation, kinky sex, political corruption and a grey area between big business and organized crime.
Rising Sun was the other big-budget adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel released in 1993 in the wake of the more perennially beloved Jurassic Park. The original book, a rare social polemic from the king of high-concept techno-thrillers, was practically a call to arms decrying the then-seemingly incipient takeover of America by Japanese corporations. Indeed the film was the most high profile addition to a mini-wave of Hollywood thrillers from the late Eighties and early Nineties paranoid or in some instances outright xenophobic over a perceived Japanese invasion: e.g. Black Rain (1989), Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). Ironically by 1993 the Asian bubble had burst. With Japan no-longer the same all-conquering economic force Hollywood moved on to demonizing other foreigners leaving behind an uncomfortable legacy of thrillers that would be offensive were they not so silly.
Here the great Sean Connery, also credited as executive producer, revisits Japanese culture almost thirty years after exploring their turf as James Bond in You Only Live Twice (1967). Bizarrely the Sixties spy thriller exhibits more progressive attitudes by comparison with Rising Sun, the product of a more enlightened age. The film opens disorientingly with a cowboy pastiche (recreating an iconic image from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) with a dog carrying a human hand) eventually unveiled as a cheesy pop video accompanying prime suspect Eddie Sakamura's (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) karaoke rendition of Cole Porter's 'Don't Fence Me In.' This establishes the plot's central theme that corporate Japan has consumed American culture and reduced it to a pale facsimile of its former self. Thereafter the plot goes on to establish high-tech surveillance, sexual exploitation and assassination as standard Japanese business practices and the Japanese themselves as scary borderline alien reptile-men, in a manner weirdly similar to Tsui Hark's thematically-similar SF action-horror The Wicked City (1992).
The screenplay, co-written by Crichton and Kaufman, attempts to counterbalance such xenophobia through Connery's reassuring paternal figure who adopts Japanese customs and applies social etiquette and boardroom tactics to unravel a complex political conspiracy. Yet the film makes his admiration of the Japanese way of life as much a source of paranoia as an asset given Smith remains unsure of Connor's true motives right until the fade-out. It boils down to another twist on the buddy cop formula, except Smith only begrudgingly tolerates Connor as his mentor and never actually learns anything. Indeed later on the film makes a big deal about Smith turning the tables on Connor when they hide out in a 'rough neighborhood' where he has a pack of gun-toting gangstas unconvincingly intimidate the yakuza. The result is in retrospect the most smug, patronizing and nauseating sequence in the film wherein Smith maintains impoverished urban black neighborhoods are America's last line of defense against the yellow peril.
Along with an ambitious, convoluted cod-Rashomon story-structure that jumps back-and-forth to underwhelming effect, Rising Sun includes a dose of post-Joe Eszterhas kink at a time when erotic thrillers were all the rage. Hence the plot hinges around a sadomasochistic sex-killing featuring gorgeous supermodel Tatjana Patitz re-staged repeatedly from multiple angles to tastefully titillating effect. Connery gets to work his golf game into a movie once again as he did in Goldfinger (1964) but Tagawa one-ups him by yet again scoffing sushi off beautiful naked women as in his earlier turn in Showdown in Little Tokyo ("Plundering our natural resources" scowls LAPD cop Harvey Keitel, sharing the screen with fellow Reservoir Dogs (1992) alum Steve Buscemi in the year Keitel was in almost every movie). Crichton's labyrinthine narrative plays the 'nothing is what it seems' game so vehemently its ambiguities eventually overwhelm the plot. You do get a fun karate fight where both Connery and Snipes show off their moves but the ending is mystifying and implies the whole investigation was an exercise in futility, our hero is on the take and his partner is poised to bed his wife out of spite.