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COAST LETTER

Japanese Bashing--a Novel Tack

February 12, 1992|ROBERT A. JONES

Flu smitten, radiating fever and self-pity, I have spent the first quarter of February lying under a pile of quilts, looking like something from Currier and Ives. But an invalid's life does have its advantages. With time to burn, I have become the first on my block to finish reading the new basher-thriller, "Rising Sun."

You have become acquainted with the stink over "Rising Sun?" Yes, Gaijin? If not, you soon will. This book, by Michael Crichton, seeks to do for the Japanese what "JFK" did for the CIA and the Mafia. That is, make them responsible for every ill that besets America except, perhaps, the clinging flu.

While others have preceded Crichton in the role of demonizer of the Japanese, he is the first to offer the whole package in the form of a detective thriller laced with economic theory. I predict that "Rising Sun" will push Crichton to the top rank of the demonizers in spectacular fashion.

What's more, the Crichton version contains a new twist, one that will intrigue all of us homeboys and homegirls. Crichton conceives of the economic war between Japan and the United States as having a geographic center. A capital of sorts, a place where the war will be won or lost.

That capital is Los Angeles. In fact, "Rising Sun," more than anything, is a novel--and moral lecture--about Los Angeles as the symbol of a defeated nation. Crichton invites us to fear and loathe our conquerors even as we are encouraged to wallow in our own spiritual squalor.

As the story begins, two LAPD detectives arrive at an evening soiree thrown by a major Japanese corporation. A bit of trouble has turned up in the boardroom. A beautiful young woman lies dead on the mahogany table.

This may sound familiar. And boring. But not to worry. The real story here has little to do with a mere murder. Crichton quickly leaps to his real purpose: the unmasking of the Japanese economic war on all of us.

As the detectives leave the high-rise where the murder took place, two elegant women join them in the elevator and discuss their hosts at the soiree. "They're buying up Orange County now," says one.

"Of course," remarks her equally high-fashion friend. "They already own Los Angeles."

As the group exits the building, the elevator chirps a good-night. In Japanese.

Everywhere the detectives turn in their search for the murderer, the Japanese hand is felt. The victim--a kinky Texas girl--turns out to have lived in a Westwood apartment building operated by wealthy Japanese men as a private flesh den.

When the cops start to get close to the perpetrators, the pressure is turned on. The chief of police tries to order the investigation cut short. He has fallen under you-know-who's influence. A professor at USC, trying to help our boys, gets stopped cold by his institutional superiors. USC, you see, depends heavily on Japanese financial support.

And finally the L.A. Times joins the conspiracy. A reporter, described as the Japanese "plant" at the newspaper, carries out a smear campaign against one of the cops, trying to pin him with a bogus child molester rap.

If this all sounds like the kind of Commie thriller J. Edgar Hoover would have loved to read in the 1950s, I think you get the idea. It is the same thing, transposed to another time, another enemy.

In case the story itself does not convince strongly enough, Crichton lets go with a lecture every page or so. We have been debased, his characters say, by 25 years of Japan's insidious design.

The Japanese now regard us with contempt, his worldly detective John Connor observes. "The Japanese think everybody who is not Japanese is a barbarian. They mean it, literally: barbarian. Stinking, vulgar, stupid barbarian."

And like "JFK," Crichton's book likely will be believed all too often. Many will accept the idea that a university would aid Japanese corporations in the cover-up of a great conspiracy. That newspapers tolerate stooges who carry out the orders of their Japanese puppet masters.

For a book so heavy on moral issues, "Rising Sun" raises one of its own. Do you think that Crichton, who lives here, wondered if his book just might encourage the kind of violence and hatred that has been occasionally directed toward the Japanese for nearly a century? Do you think he discussed this prospect with his editors?

Or do you think they talked about timing, and whether the market was ready for just this sort of thing? And did they congratulate each other when L.A. turned down the Metro Rail contract with Sumitomo because it meant that the timing, in fact, was very good?

An idle question, I suppose. Just thought I would ask.

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