On the other hand, Tagawa says, "Phil Kaufman down't give off that sort of aura. He's very low key. He has the same kind of social consciousness but in an even more real way than Bertolucci."
On meeting Kaufman Tagawa was impressed with the director's understanding of racism and the dangers to be avoided in Rising Sun. He was as sensitive to prejudice toward Japanese Americans as he is to anti-Semitism. The subject is not new to him. He told Tagawa about a Japanese American classmate who had been in an internment camp and a thesis he wrote at the University of Chicago. It criticized the internment camps and also the McCarran-Walters Act which prohibited artists, writers and political figures from entering the U.S. because of their political views and associations.
Kaufman's sensitivity and his off-beat humor are reflected in his script for Rising Sun which departs from the book in significant ways. In Chrichton's novel the Eddie Sakamura character is a "druggy playboy, a fairly throwaway character". In the movie he becomes the fourth most important character. The character has been fleshed out, made more complex and more sympathetic, according to Tagawa.
Sean Connery plays Captain Connor, a detective who has lived in Japan and acquired a vast knowledge of that country and its culture. When a beautiful Caucasian woman is found murdered on the opening night of the new Los Angeles headquarters of a Japanese conglomerate, Connor becomes a sort of guru to a young detective who is comparatively inexperienced in dealing with the Japanese community. By casting Black actor Wesley Snipes as the younger officer, who is Caucasian in the book, Kaufman has added a new twist. Harvey Keitel plays a bigoted cop. Mako and Stan Egi are two of the main Japanese businessmen. Tia Carrere, who is Connery's romantic interest, plays a technician of Japanese-African descent.
In Tagawa's view Chrichton's book is a condemnation of the business practices and political connections of both Japan and the United States, not just Japan-bashing. At first he was excited by the posibility of portraying one of the businessmen. After reading for those parts several times, he was asked to read for Eddie.
"I was a little disappointed because it was so far out of the characters I've played. To portray a sexual Asian male with a blond girlfriend would be a pretty far-out stretch. Later, I realized that in Tokyo I hung out with those sexual Japanese males who had blond girlfriends and drove fast cars. It wasn't difficult to get into the character although I felt some concern because it's not a positive relationship between my girlfriend and me. Still, I think Eddie will be one of the first times the public has even seen a sexual Japanese male who is a playboy. It's so far out of the American perception of the Japanese. It's possible that some people who feel negative about the Japanese will have negative feelings about my character and about me." Tagawa is matter-of-fact about that possibility.
To give the film's gangsters an authentic quality, four stunt masters were brought over from Japan at Tagawa's suggestion. "These masters bring an integrity to their badness," Tagawa explains. "If you're going to represent badness it should be as close to the real energy as possible. These men were actually masters in their styles of martial arts. At first they had some apprehension that their students would not like to see their masters playing gangsters but at the same time they were happy to work together for the first time. They are all very powerful individuals. They helped bring a reality to the film that was vitally necessary." Tagawa made a point of asking each of them how he felt about the film. "No one thought it was 'Japan-bashing'. They felt there were things in it that are true about the Japanese. Most Japanese Americans don't know what's true and what's not true about the Japanese."
Tagawa suggested to Kaufman that an additional dramatic edge would be gained if Snipes reflected the hostility some African Americans have expressed toward Asians, citing the resentment aroused in 1986 when the Japanese prime minister blamed ethnic minorities for social and economic problems in America. "The Japanese are racist," Tagawa says, "and I don't think there's a Japanese who would deny that."
Snipes, however, is a martial artist with a Japanese girlfriend and has respect for the Japanese culture. He refused to go along with Tagawa's suggestion, feeling it would be better to portray an African American like himself who is interested in learning about Japan. Tagawa praises the casting of Snipes. "Without him the film would have been about white America and yellow Japan. It could have left out a large segment of American society. It's critical not only for Whites to understand the Japanese but for the Blacks because there are positive things that all three cultures share and that they can respect."
In Transpacific's Nov/Dec 92 issue editor-at-large George Takei expressed concern that Rising Sun could incite more racial hostility among African Americans if the popular Snipes is cast as an angry young Black voice. That has not come to pass, Tagawa says. "At every level in making the film, any possible negativity has been overbalanced by the positive. Hopefully the movie will let them see that, yes, Japan is about competition. My most important line is, 'Business is war.' Business has always been war for America too. That's the danger of leaving the two countries in the hands of businessmen and politicians. The only outcome you have is a winner and a lose, but that's not so if you're connected through culture, education and a people-to-people relationship. I'd like to be a part of the energy that brings the two countries together."
Asian Americans have been kept apart, Tagawa believes, because there has been too much focus on national feeling. "It's a twisted sort of attachement to being Japanese American versus Chinese American. To me, we're in the same boat here. It's basically Whte and non-White. I think that's enough disunity. Let's move toward something greater. A different world is coming. It's very important for Asian Americans to have a wider view not only of their racial group but of their place in the world.