There are two things you should know about "Rising Sun." The first is that the film deviates sharply from the Michael Crichton book that inspired it--so much so that Crichton quit the project. In the film version, a different "who" done it. The second thing is that Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes are so comfortable and assured in their roles that they make us feel at ease no matter how complicated or convoluted the plot seems to get. And it does. You have to pay attention while you're watching "Rising Sun."
But don't expect the typical buddy-cop film. There isn't nearly the banter and humor of "Lethal Weapon," "Running Scared," or any number of films in this genre. Director Philip Kaufman ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being") plays it mostly straight in this investigative thriller about the apparent murder of a call girl who was found on the conference table in the board room of a Japanese corporation. If anything, it's old cop/young cop, or rather, Sempai/Kohai, as senior Japanese expert Capt. John Connor (Connery) keeps reminding his junior Japanese expert assigned partner, Lt. Webster Smith (Snipes). Crichton's book was popular but bashed Japan something fierce. The film is slightly toned down, but the world in which Connor and Webster investigate is still made sinister by the Japanese.
The focus is a possible buyout of an American company called Microcom by a Japanese corporate giant based in Trump-sized Nakamoto Tower. Congress has to approve the acquisition, and so a grand party in Nakamoto Tower includes plenty of dignitaries . . . and politicians. Our suspicions of the Japanese are raised almost instantly, though, as we eavesdrop on boardroom negotiations and see that, as in a Vegas scam, the Japanese have bugged the Microcom representatives. Their whispers are being monitored by people in the Nakamoto Tower security room on additional screens that have been added just for the negotiations, and their every word is relayed to the Japanese. Translation: there's no way you're going to beat these guys.
Unknown powers have requested that Smith not only show up that evening when the body is discovered to act as a Japanese liaison, but to pick up someone along the way. That someone turns out to be an apparently legendary figure who's been coaxed out of retirement (as in "The Rock") to help in this situation. Who's giving whom the authority to do what is never quite clear. But we accept it as uneasily as Smith. One word of warning, however. Connor's Sempai routine can get a little old, and it's here, not in any aspect of plot or assignation of blame, where much of the racism resides. "Bow" he tells his charge, who already knows. We're never told much about why the Japanese believe as they do, only that they do, with a tone that sounds straight out of an old WWII patriotic movie. You know, that Oriental mind stuff, as if the Oriental mind were a creation of an evil scientist. Get past that, though, and "Rising Sun" is a decent investigative thriller with plenty of twists and turns and enough action to satisfy viewers' blood-lust.
Set and filmed in L.A., "Rising Sun" has the curious feel of a movie shot abroad, which is to say that Kaufman creates a world into which the investigators plunge that feels decidedly Japanese. Veteran actor Mako plays Yoshida-san, the Nakamoto honcho with whom Connor apparently shares a history. How to investigate while also avoiding embarrassing the Japanese and allowing them to "save face" becomes the focus of the team, but it also gets kinky. It turns out that the call girl was into asphyxiation to heighten the sexual experience, so was she or wasn't she murdered?
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is appropriately sinister as the Japanese corporate playboy who's also into a bit of the kink, and Ray Wise is equally smarmy as a U.S. Senator who may or may not be in the pocket of Nakamoto industries. Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel put in appearances as "The Weasel" and a police lieutenant. For the most part, the acting is top-notch, and when it does seem slightly "off" it's because the lines seem hokier. When Tia Carrere helps the men with their investigation, for example, the banter just feels like lines spoken in a movie. But moments like these are rare, and it's Connery's and Snipes' performances that carry us through the film.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and calibrated to fill out the entire screen of a 16x9 television. The picture, transferred to a 25-gig disc using AVC technology at 18 MBPS, looks very good. There's some slight graininess in backgrounds of certain soft-focus scenes, but that clearly was intended. Color saturation and black levels are good, but this one won't be the disc you pop in to impress your guests. There's a decent level of detail, but not an awe-inspiring amount.
The soundtrack is a bit more impressive, with the feature option an English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless, and additional options in French 2.0 Surround and Spanish 2.0 Stereo. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. The bass is robust and full, and the treble is bright but not too tinny, with a nice balance and great use of the rear speakers.
As with all Blu-ray releases, there's a pop-up menu so you can hunt-and-peck while the movie continues to play, take a break to watch a feature and then come back to that spot in the movie. However, the only break you can take here is to glimpse the original theatrical trailer. There are no other extras.
Connery and Snipes work well together, but because each actor has a track record of mixing drama with humor, you almost wish the script had called for more comedy. Still, as a mostly straight investigative thriller, "Rising Sun" provides a nice combination of mystery and action.