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Rising Storm Over ‘Rising Sun’ - But Over Taboo Words, Not Japan- Bashing

September 16, 1993

TOKYO (AP) _ ″Rising Sun″ is raising a ruckus even before opening in Tokyo. But unlike in the United States, the fuss - at least for now - isn’t over whether the movie bashes Japan.

Instead, conflict is brewing over racial and caste references in the Japanese-language dialogue, taboo terms deemed inappropriate for Japanese audiences.

According to newspaper reports, the Japanese distributor is insisting on overdubbing the scenes in question before the film is released.

In a related flap, press reports say ″Rising Sun″ was rejected for screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival later this month. Neither the studio nor the film festival would comment.

The movie, starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, was the target of demonstrations by Asian-American groups in several U.S. cities when it opened this summer. The protesters argued that the movie’s Japanese characters are portrayed as sinister and predatory.

Based on a novel by ″Jurassic Park″ author Michael Crichton, the film is about the investigation of the murder of an American woman at the U.S. offices of a Japanese corporation. The broader theme is Japan’s economic power.

The movie, which has made more than $50 million in the United States, is to open in Japan in October or November, said Paul Hanneman, general manager of distributor Twentieth Century Fox-Far East in Tokyo.

He refused to discuss any specific changes being contemplated for Japanese audiences, but said nothing was being done to alter the movie’s overall content.

″We’re working on making the marketing of the film as appropriate as possible for Japan,″ he said.

The national Asahi daily said the distributor was objecting to a scene in which a half-Japanese woman character talks about discrimination against the ″burakumin,″ or ″hamlet people″ - a former outcast group which still faces discrimination in Japan.

Taboos about the burakumin are so ingrained in Japan that the subject rarely enters normal conversation. Even how to refer to them is a sensitive question.

The same ″Rising Sun″ character also uses the word ″ainoko,″ an anachronistic and somewhat vulgar term referring to a mixed racial background.

The Asahi report said the disagreement prevented ″Rising Sun″ from getting a spot at the Tokyo film festival, which begins Sept. 24. It said the distributor did not want to show the original version, and festival rules prohibit the showing of altered films.

Hanneman said the backers hoped ″Rising Sun″ would be taken on its merits as a strong crime drama.

It’s not unusual for foreign movies to be changed for Japanese consumption. Explicit sex scenes are often doctored, though violence is generally condoned.

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