Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, Alfred a Knopf Inc, January 27th, 1992
Rising Sun is a novel written by Michael Crichton while he was still at the height of his literary powers. It was published after Jurassic Park and before Disclosure — the latter of which I have not read.* All three were successful novels that were quickly adapted into successful films.
The subject matter of the novel is rather out of date today and it is best read as a period novel, as the issues of the time now seem rather quaint. The title is both obvious but still clever with three levels of meaning that I could pick out. The obvious being a direct reference to Japan as the land of the rising sun. The next being its position at the time as a major world power that was expected by many to eclipse the economic power of the United States. This features heavily in the plot with the two detectives investigating a murder at the Nakamoto Corporation. The last meaning can be seen in the time much of the story takes place where the detectives are racing against the sunrise to solve the murder. The actual plot goes on three nights though.
Although I’m certainly not very familiar with the genre, the book and film both have elements of classic American detective fiction and film noir. A quick search supports this as it wasn’t lost on critics. The film follows the book as closely as one could hope with the only major changes being the white character Peter Smith becoming the black Webster Smith. This was at a time when race-swapping characters was done less maliciously and absurdly than today. It also actually works as racism is a strong thematic element and the buddy cop dynamic found in the Lethal Weapon series had been well-received by audiences.
Almost thirty years later, things are very different. At the time of publication, the Japanese economy had already begun to decline and the fears of Japanese dominance now seem laughable though Crichton’s observations about American politicians and corporations willingly selling out their nation to foreigners are all too accurate. Nowadays, Japan has been usurped by its unfriendly neighbor China but remains a strong and (more importantly) stable nation. The United States today needs no help from foreigners to commit economic and cultural suicide. Americans could be now forgiven for wishing the Japanese had come to dominate the country.
Crichton’s style in all the novels I’ve read was to have characters explain scientific concepts or some other extended but relevant piece of trivia to another character or characters. He excelled at having things explained in ways that most readers could easily follow and while I’m sure literary pedants found it wanting, I always found these asides fascinating.
In Rising Sun, Crichton has the character John Connor explain different aspects of Japanese culture to the protagonist, Peter Smith. Although some critics seemed determined to have found fault with the novel (and the film) for being anti-Japanese, Connor is sympathetic to the Japanese and I suspect Crichton was too. As I lived in Japan for a decade fifteen years after the novel’s publication, I found these parts of particular interest.
In the film, John Connor is portrayed by Sean Connery and his commentary on the Japanese is far briefer — as is his use of their language. It also seems to have been changed to be more sympathetic to the Japanese though I would maintain that Crichton’s main target is the willingness of Americans to voluntarily sell themselves out and not Japan’s willingness to take advantage of this.
What follows are some of the extended quotes from John Connor which I found interesting and my commentary. As a last aside, I am a bit puzzled as to why Crichton used that name for the character as Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released the year before, is set in the same city and is still a much loved film today. Realistically though, it is a fairly common sort of name so it still works.
On to the commentary.