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  • This is a magnificent adaptation of David Guterson's acclaimed book. Scott Hicks took on a gargantuan task in attempting to make the book into a film, not only because it was so powerful and well received, but because it was so lengthy and daedal. The result, however, was one of the best films I have seen in quite some time.

    There were really three stories intricately interwoven into one. The main story was the trial of a Japanese American for the murder of a fisherman who owned the land wrongfully taken from the accused's father. The other two stories provide insight into critical events affecting the trial. The first involves the childhood love affair of local newspaperman Ishmael (Ethan Hawke) and Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), who is now the wife of the accused. He has uncovered information that can aid the defense, but his resentment for having been jilted by Hatsue stands in the way of his bringing it forth.

    The second ancillary story is the persecution of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II. We see depictions of hatred and bigotry, as law abiding Japanese citizens are shamelessly herded into internment camps. This seething animus serves as the psychological backdrop for the trial, which occurs in the early 1950's when the memories of the war and lost loved ones is still fresh.

    From a directorial and cinematography perspective, this film was nothing short of a masterpiece. It is a cinematic work of art. Between Hicks' brilliant camera perspectives and Robert Richardson's beautiful lighting and earth tone coloring, the film was resplendent in powerful and stirring images. Many were so artistically done that if made into snapshots they could easily hang in any art gallery. Each shot was meticulously thought out. Many involved complex shots through windows, silhouette backlighting, elaborate blocking, and scenes where actors, props and camera were all moving in different directions to create fabulously fluid perspective shots that slowly unfolded to revealed the scene's full content.

    The editing was also fantastic. I have seen comparison's between this editing and ‘The Limey'. While there is some similarity in technique, this was far more elegant and flowing, whereas `The Limey' was jumpy and disconnected. This style of editing was absolutely necessary to adhere to the book's non linear format. Hicks needed to insert scenes that explained the feelings and motivations of the characters, and the only way to do this was with flashbacks and jump cuts. Despite the fact that such editing is disconcerting to a large majority of viewers, it was an artistic decision that was exactly right for the story, and seamlessly done. The same is true of the audio overlays with monologues of characters superimposed on one another, giving great power and emphasis to certain of the characters' lines.

    The story itself, with all of its components, was engaging and well crafted. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to develop more of the characters. The scenes depicting the herding of the Japanese out of their homes for relocation were chilling. The courtroom scenes were realistic, not forsaking court procedure for dramatic effect, as is so common nowadays. The love scenes were sensitive, romantic and passionate without the need for sexual explicitness.

    From an acting perspective, this was more of an ensemble production. All the actors gave wonderful performances, especially Youki Kudoh, who was torn between her love for Ishmael and her loyalty to her family and traditions. Kudoh was so emotionally involved with the part that she actually began crying during the featurette when recalling one of the scenes. Screen legend Max von Sydow was also fantastic as the aging defense attorney fighting and pleading for justice amidst the racial hatred.

    This is a beautifully crafted film with a compelling story. It is a filmmaking 10/10. It has unfortunately not found a wide audience since its strongest elements are not areas of mass appeal. For the refined viewer who can appreciate filmmaking as an art, and enjoy an intriguing but deliberate story with exquisitely woven subtleties, this film is a delight. For those who prefer Hollywood's movie success formula of fast paced linear stories with lots of violence, profanity, clever one liners and raunchy sex, this film will bore them to death.
  • Steven Reynolds23 January 2000
    Adapting this novel with its tricky, time-shifting narrative was always going to be a big task, but Scott Hicks' sumptuous and elegant film very nearly pulls it off. Hicks and co-writer Ron Bass move quickly into the courtroom and wisely use the trial to drive the plot, telling the backstory - the real story in this case - through a finely-woven complex of flashbacks. The difficulty is that this story is a rich, long and emotional tale which requires a fair degree of exposition for it to be satisfying. The screenplay is superbly economical in this regard, but there is no escaping the fact that the only way to cover so much ground in a film of tolerable length is to fly over it at 30,000 feet. The necessarily distant treatment this requires occasionally dilutes the emotional force which would have come from a more thorough and leisurely telling. Hicks strives valiantly to compensate with a powerfully emotive score - this works, but it doesn't always hit the mark. Rather than engendering emotion, James Newton Howard's musical is often so insistently overpowering that it locks the audience out. On occasions I felt strangely alienated by a wall of sound when I knew I should have been in tears. But that's a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent production. Overall, this is an intelligent and considered adaptation - probably the best that could be made from a novel which would have been incredibly difficult to bring to the screen. It's solidly acted, immaculately lit, and offers some of the most achingly beautiful imagery to illuminate the screen in years (the opening shots are magnificent). Most rewarding of all is the fact that Scott Hicks takes some real stylistic risks with this film. They don't always pay off, but when they do it's magical.
  • Snow Falling on Cedars

    Nominated for best cinematography, this film deserved to give American Beauty a better run for its money. Sadly savaged by many critics, who seemed to fail to grasp the depth of the story and the beauty with which it was told because they were too busy analyzing the parts. Snow Falling on Cedars follows a mixed race love that is complicated by the onset of war. The reactions of the two principle characters betrays not only how human love can transcend itself into something greater but how those involved can find fulfillment in themselves through its sacrifice. The exquisite symbolism (you could write a book on the different things snow could symbolize after watching this) is never overplayed - in other words, the viewer can enjoy the film as entertainment without having "deeper meanings" rammed down their throat - but they are there in abundance, from the way the scenery is developed to small details such as the main character's name ("Ishmael" - meaning "He whom God hears").
  • Hitchcoc5 November 2001
    This is one of those films that needs to be seen a second time to pick up on the subtleties of the plot. It is a feast for the eyes and features outstanding acting. It also has a sense of balance. It doesn't manipulate its viewer. The murder mystery isn't one that brings in forces that threaten the main character. The forces are prejudice and fear. The adversaries are not people carrying guns but rather the legal system that often overlooked the rights of people of another race or ethnic background. The internment camps are part of the backdrop. I know that people say this is slow, but so is the process these people faced.

    I loved the intellectual character of the young man who has to look past his own feeling and try to bring closure to someone he will never be able to have. The transitions are so breathtaking. The winter scenes are a portrait of softness and violence. My wife had read the book upon which this is based and said that the movie might be interesting. Apparently, the producers were unwilling to go the extra mile to get this noticed. It's a gem and deserves to be on a list of very fine movies.
  • Honor and justice, the effects of prejudice, and most importantly the need for truth; all elements that bind us together as a community of Man, or threaten to tear us apart, depending upon the circumstances at hand, and how we, as a society approach them. What it all comes down to is having and living by a moral code, and applying that code objectively, especially in troubled times. And the real question is, when the time comes, are we as a people capable of achieving that objectivity that is imperative in assuring true justice for all? It's an important, legitimate question posed by director Scott Hicks in `Snow Falling On Cedars,' a very real and personal drama, that in the final analysis has a bearing of monumental proportions that ultimately defines who we are and what we are made of, while ascertaining whether or not we do, indeed, have the moral courage necessary to survive as a civilized species.

    It's a small town in the State of Washington; the ninth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is coming up, and a young man named Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), a much decorated American soldier during the war, is on trial for the murder of local fisherman Carl Heine (Eric Thal). Covering the trial is reporter Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), whose father, Arthur (Sam Shepard), had been a respected newspaperman locally for many years, known as a man who was not afraid to speak from his conscience when writing an editorial, and who took a stand for the Japanese locals during the emotionally exasperating years encompassing World War II.

    Attempting to objectively cover Kazuo's trial, Ishmael finds himself troubled by a conflict of interests; he has a history with Kazuo's wife, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), a former relationship reaching back to their childhood, but which ended with the onset of the war. And Ishmael still is grappling with the bitterness he has felt since that time, born of his experiences in the military, as well as Hatsue's rejection of him. And now he is forced to objectively observe this pivotal point in her life, watching from the sidelines and seeing first hand the effects of the prejudice that is very much alive among the local citizenry, and which threatens the assurance of an impartial judgment in Kazuo's case; a judgment that will determine the future of not only Kazuo, but of Hatsue, the woman Ishmael once loved-- and still does.

    Working from an intelligent screenplay (by Hicks and Ronald Bass, adapted from the novel by David Guterson), with this film Hicks demonstrates the difference between a visionary filmmaker and someone who just makes movies. In another's hands, because of the story itself, this would have no doubt been an excellent film; with Hicks directing, however, it becomes something much more, as he has taken it beyond excellent, crafting and delivering a film that is thoroughly mesmerizing, majestic and memorable. It's an accomplishment achieved through a visionary presentation, born of the director's sensitive approach to the material and his acute insights into the human condition. Fully utilizing all of the magic at his disposal, Hicks has taken a good film and turned it into an emotionally involving, inspirational and visually poetic experience.

    With a haunting score by James Newton Howard underscoring the magnificent cinematography of Robert Richardson, Hicks brings the era and the rural splendor of Washington State vividly to life, creating an aesthetic ambiance that makes the emotional essence of the drama almost tangible; and by exacting some incredible performances from his actors, he sustains that emotional level and combines all of these elements to make this film riveting and unforgettable.

    As Ishmael, Ethan Hawke gives a reserved, understated performance, through which he genuinely captures the essence of his character. Watching him, you can sense the turmoil of a soul at cross purposes with itself, and he enables you to sample that taste of bitterness toward life he so desperately needs to overcome if he is to move on within himself to greener pastures. With this role, Hawke was given the opportunity to do something fine, and he succeeds with one of his most memorable performances yet.

    Youki Kudoh turns in an extremely affecting performance, as well, as Hatsue. With this moving portrayal of a young woman enduring unbearable inner turmoil, she fulfills the artistic promises made in previous films, such as `Mystery Train' in '89, and `Picture Bride,' in 1965. She's a terrific actor, whose eyes are truly a window to her soul.

    Also adding to the success of this film are the supporting efforts of Richard Jenkins, as Sheriff Moran, and James Rebhorn as prosecutor Alvin Hooks. But the most notable performance of all comes from Max von Sydow, who as Kazuo's defense attorney, Nels Gudmundsson, is given an opportunity to return to the kind of role that shaped his career early on under the auspices of Ingmar Bergman. As Nels, von Sydow gives a performance made all the more powerful by the restraint and subtlety of his delivery. He takes what to most actors would be a good part, and makes it a cohesive element of the film. It's a performance that by all rights should have earned von Sydow an Oscar nomination, but sadly did not.

    The supporting cast includes Reeve Carney (Young Ishmael), Ann Suzuki (Young Hatsue), James Cromwell (Judge Fielding), Ariia Bareikis (Susan Marie), Celia Weston (Etta) and Daniel von Bargen (Carl). In a year (1999) that saw lesser efforts acknowledged, `Snow Falling On Cedars' was inexplicably ignored at Oscar time (except for Richardson's most deserving nomination for cinematography); an injustice, to say the least, as this was clearly one of the best films of the year. Reminiscent of Ang Lee's artistry, yet with a style uniquely his own, Hicks has given us a poetic film of rare beauty and conscience, for which he is hereby granted an Award in it's purest form:

    The gratitude of an appreciate audience. 10/10.
  • This film stands apart from the standard, sometimes clever, seldom memorable work that passes too often for Oscar fare nowadays. It is a film about life and death, love and betrayal, passion and pain, forgiveness and redemption. It is about the power of emotion to influence perception and memory. It is about justice and truth.

    But that is not why you should see it; You should see it for the story. For this film is so finely crafted, and the story unfolds so naturally, that it is easy to appreciate for the simple compelling drama of the narrative. You care about the characters, you care about how the trial turns out, and you ache to know the truth.

    The plot centers around a murder trial of a Japanese man charged in the death of a local fisherman, and on a white reporter covering the trial. It turns out the reporter had once been in love with a Japanese woman, now the accused man's wife. This romance was shattered as World War II broke out, and the young woman and her family were rounded up with other Japanese Americans, and interred in camps.

    The story that unfolds is part "Casablanca", part "Amistad", part "To Kill a Mockingbird", yet wholly original and true to itself. It is at once a tender love story, a lesson in history, a murder mystery, and more.

    The story of each of the main characters is told through flashbacks that reveal how each of them has suffered because of the war and how each has to overcome this suffering. Many of the most compelling images of the film occur in these flashbacks. Like real lasting memories, they are moments of deep emotional significance, and include many images which you will carry in your own mind long after you have left the theater.

    If you look for them you may also find some symbolic or allegorical images in the film (the boat's mast resembles a cross; the fish could also be seen as a Christian symbol of sacrifice), but these elements are not heavy handed or forced, they occur naturally as important elements of the story which is set in a small fishing village on the Northwestern coast of the US in the years surrounding World War II.

    While I have seen many reviewers comment on how beautifully filmed and well acted this film is, I have seen a few who have somehow failed to appreciate the significance of the story. My only caution on this account is, take care that you are not so blinded by beauty, that you fail to notice love.

    In short, I found this to be a brilliant, deep, uplifting engrossing, and highly satisfying film experience.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Having loved David Guterson's novel, "Snow Falling on Cedars", we resisted in seeing the film based on it when it was released. Some times a book that is still alive in one's imagination doesn't compare well with what movie people can do to it; it can go either way. Fortunately, as in the case with this work, director Scott Hicks, who also helped to adapt it for the screen, shows a sensibility for the book as it shows in the finished product. The co-writer is Ronald Bass.

    The film is told in flashbacks. We are given the premise of the discovery of Carl Heine's body tangled in the nets and then the film goes into the trial in which the accused man, Kazuo Miyamoto, stands trial in spite of the fact he is an innocent man. Kazuo was a man that happened to be at the scene of the crime, but had nothing to do with what happened. His only guilt was trying to get back what had been the family's land from Heine.

    The film goes back to the time when Ishmael and Hatsue, who is now married to Kazuo, were childhood sweethearts. We see how inseparable they were and how they didn't stand a chance because they came from different ethnic groups. Hatsue's parents want her to stick to her own kind.

    Prejudice is shown as Japanese immigrants living in America were interred in concentration camps. This shameful page in the history of the United States changed forever the relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael. Kazuo went to fight in WWII on the side of his adopted country. Ishamel also goes to the conflict and suffers a loss of an arm during his time at the front.

    Ishmael, who is seen at the trial where he is reporting the process for his own newspaper, holds the key in solving the mystery. Even though he knows he will never have Hatsue back, he does the right thing in clearing her husband's name and his innocence.

    The film was shot in dark tones that renders the film with a sepia finish. There is not much color in Robert Richarson's splendid cinematography as he captures the bleak atmosphere of the different times shown in the movie. The editing of Hank Corwin works well in the movie. The musical score by James Newton Howard is an elegant compliment to the images one sees on the screen.

    Ethan Hawke's Ishmael has little dialog in the movie, yet, his expressions contribute to make his character a complex figure throughout the film. Youki Kudoh makes a beautiful Hatsue. Rick Yune plays the accused Kazuo. The great Max Von Sydow is seen as Kazuo's lawyer, the man who clearly understood what he was fighting for; he was an upright figure who opposed the prejudice and narrow mindedness of the small town. Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, Eric Thal, Arija Bareikis, James Cromwell and the others in the cast make valuable contributions to the success of the film.

    Ultimately, this is a Scott Hicks film and he proves he had a vision in how to stage the novel for us to rejoice.
  • A tightly wound and dynamic thriller that centers around a local news reporter (Ethan Hawke) who runs into an old childhood flame part friend (Youri Kudoh) during a murder trial in a small Washington town during the early 1950s. Director Scott Hicks, who made a name for himself and actor Geoffrey Rush in "Shine", takes an interesting approach in putting plenty of flashbacks that go back to the late 1930s and it works wonderfully. The film's best (and the saddest) flashback scene is witnessing every Japanese person being hauled off in (trucks or trains) to special camps. The courtroom scenes are excellent and watching the devoted prosecutor (James Rebhorn) and an aging, but determined defense attorney (Max von Sydow, who should have snatched a nod for Best Supporting Actor) make their cases is almost perfect. The film is backed by Robert Richardson's terrific cinematography and composer James Newton Howard's gentle and moving score. It's "Stand By Me" meets "To Kill A Mockingbird".
  • `Snow Falling on Cedars' stands as one of the most visually ravishing films of the past several years. Beautifully attuned to the natural splendor of its Washington State locale, the film actually converts its setting into one of the major characters in the film. Nature, in the form of topography, flora and weather, seems to exert, if only subliminally, as much influence on the people involved as their own actions and passions. However, there is always a drawback to a movie being so closely tied to its physical environment: very often the background advances to the foreground, ultimately overwhelming and dwarfing the human figures that should be our primary focus. Almost inevitably then, `Cedars' itself falls victim to this syndrome from time to time. Despite many intriguing elements in its narrative, we do come away remembering far more the stunning landscapes of rugged stone mountains, fog-enshrouded lakes and endless rows of snow-covered cedars than the characters at the story's core. Still, the film offers enough interest in the story and personalities to keep `Snow Falling on Cedars' relatively intriguing for the majority of its (admittedly overlong) 128-minute running time.

    Set in 1950, the film chronicles the effect a mysterious death of a local fisherman has on the populous of a small island community made up mostly of whites and Japanese Americans, a death that, for complicated reasons, awakens many of the racial prejudices still holding over from the recently concluded war. As a Japanese man stands trial for the `murder,' Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), a mediocre reporter for the local paper, copes with three basic issues: his unrequited love for the defendant's Japanese wife, the flaring-up of anti-Japanese bigotry in both the past and the present, and haunting memories of his deceased father, a socially crusading newspaper publisher, in whose shadow Ishmael toils and against whose professional reputation Ishmael is tested and found wanting.

    The film is definitely at its most emotionally powerful in its superb middle section, which beautifully dramatizes, in flashback, the shameful deportation of these Japanese-American citizens to interment camps in California, for no crime more serious than simply being of Japanese descent. Parallels to the rounding up of Jews in Nazi Germany are never far from our minds as we witness this wholesale forced migration of a group of innocent people singled-out to assuage the prejudice and fear of an ignorant but powerful majority. For these scenes alone, the film is most assuredly worth seeing.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the film cannot sustain this same intensity of deep emotional conviction. The forbidden interracial childhood romance between Ishmael and Hatsue, the current wife of the man on trial, smacks a bit too much of tired Romeo and Juliet melodramatics. Furthermore, Ishmael seems underdeveloped as a character, too dreamy-eyed and passive, just the kind of character that can be easily swallowed up in a film in which the background plays such a prominent part. Moreover, the easy wrap-up of the trial is woefully unconvincing and unsatisfying both as realism and as drama.

    On the positive side, `Snow Falling on Cedars' boasts a fascinating dual-level structure, in which small snippets of information are introduced to us in the form of near-subliminal quick cuts representing memories or speculations on past events, often, oddly, those at which none of the characters involved in the current scene were even present. This latter inconsistency in the film's point-of-view may seem dubious and questionable from a strictly narrative standpoint, but the format does help to flesh out the story and characters in interesting and intriguing ways, intensifying the mystery as we attempt to piece it all together to finally get a view of the whole picture. Director Scott Hicks, along with his co-writer Ron Bass, succeeds in providing a richly detailed glimpse into a shameful episode in American history - and the lyrical quality achieved through Robert Richardson's outstanding cinematography helps the film override some of its more obvious flaws. If one brings an attitude of patience and a fine eye for natural beauty to the film, `Snow Falling on Cedars' turns out to be quite rewarding, especially for those misguided misfits who still, at this late date, justify and defend the actions taken against the American Japanese during the war. This film is a stunning rebuttal to both them and their idiotic notions. For that aspect alone, `Snow Falling on Cedars' demands to be seen.
  • As the referees say on pro football TV games, "On further review......" That's the way I thought after my second viewing of this movie.

    GOOD NEWS - On the first look, I was totally blown away and dazzled at the fabulous cinematography. Man, this is one of the prettiest movies I've ever seen.....and that's important for my entertainment. Scene after scene looks like some picture postcard. I also enjoyed the two lawyers in this film, played by James Rebhorn and Max VonSydow. Sometimes those two were riveting to watch.

    BAD NEWS - Most of the story was anything but riveting, way too slow and with way too much time used on flashbacks. This story could have been told in a much more presentable way which could have kept the audience's attention. It's also a little too politically-correct. We were beaten over the head with the prejudice against Japanese. Everyone here, except the Liberal newspaper editor and his son, is portrayed as extremely bigoted.

    Overall, a spectacular visual film - one of the best ever - but a story that takes interminably long to tell.....too long.
  • Aesthetically fusing the roaming sensuality of Terrence Malick with David Fincher's sleekly composed perfectionism, director Scott Hicks conjures something truly elegant in his sure-handed film adaption of novelist David Guterson's achingly humane meditation of memories and mysteries.

    Using a local Japanese-American's trial for murder as springboard to mosaically reckon with pains and pleasures ever echoing out from the intricately woven tapestry of the past, "Snow Falling On Cedars" is gracefully rendered from its illustrious source novel's deeply textured framing. The story intimately sets its focus upon a post Second World War American Pacific Northwest coastal community grappling with lingering racial anxieties and prejudices, whilst oneirically delving between the insidious angst of love turned longing, and the ethical responsibility of each to reach for integrity and forbid fear from effecting fairness.

    Finely crafted to the highest level by tip-top talents all giving their career bests, beautifully executing a singular vision of fluid design. Uniformly nuanced acting performances are flawlessly enhanced to the zenith of the Cinematic art form by the stunningly divine union of Jeannine Oppewall's sublime production design to Robert Richardson's evocative cinematography, and editor Hank Corwin's mercurial non- linear assembled paramnesia accompanied by composer James Newton Howard's haunting musical resonance. Every tactile frame is a gently measured reflection of the era and souls that once stirred there, authenticity attending to the minutia of their elements. In dreamy adagios and empathetic elegies, the aural aura of its sensuous score is ruthful reverberation of the film's delicate dignity.

    I cannot summon enough adjectives to adorn such wistful brilliance its just due. To my mind, "Snow Falling On Cedars" is a lamentably under-revered melancholy masterpiece.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Snow Falling on Cedars (1999): Dir: Scott Hicks / Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, Max Von Sydow, Youki Kudoh: Snow is a metaphor for burdens while cedars represent people. Ethan Hawke stars as a reporter who carries the job after his father's passing. He is covering a case involving land payment and possible murder. A Japanese male is on trial whose father bought the land during the war but they got behind in payments. Romantic subplot bares no weight but director Scott Hicks does a fantastic job. This is Hicks's followup to his success with Shine. Hawke is superb as he searches for answers but his involvement with a female sidelines what's important. Sam Shepard as his father is superb and the relationship is seen as one trying to reach the other in potential or measuring up. Also with Richard Jenkins as a Sheriff who survives what might have been a cliché type role by applying intellect and reasoning. Max Von Sydow as a lawyer also rises above convention by stealing his scenes. Youki Kudoh plays the married Asian woman whom Hawke rolls about under the cedars enacting hot forbidden passion. While the story structure doesn't always bear weight, the winter photography is enchanting particularly when the snow and cedars physically enter the picture. Strong themes heavy on symbolism to demonstrate the weariness of a burdened soul. Score: 9 / 10
  • This is a beautiful, atmospheric film with a complex mystery and romance woven expertly into the first rate cinematography. Easily one of my favourite films. Watch in complete darkness to really appreciate the lighting of the film, especially the candle lit court room scene. You could stop the film at any point in any scene and you would find it perfectly framed. The performances of each actor is superb, never over acted. The film is a quiet, perfect, work of art. I was surprised at it's low rating on IMDb and can only assume those low rating were divvied up by those who were hoping for a bit less of a cerebral masterpiece and more of a simplistic crash-n-bash affaire. If your a relatively clever person who appreciates well crafted film, watch this.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'm usually in general agreement with IMDb viewers on most films, but with this one I have a major disconnect. The picture has a 6.8 rating as I write this, a far cry from the 10 I would give it for masterful story telling and exceptional cinematography. You just never can tell.

    I realize that the non-linear format can be a turn off for many viewers, but unlike other movies I've seen utilizing the frequent use of flashbacks, I didn't find the technique to be distracting here. It was fully essential to develop the back story of Ishmael's (Ethan Hawke) unrequited love for Hatsue (Yuki Kudo), and the circumstances leading to the trial of Hatsue's husband for murder. Particularly relevant were the scenes pertinent to the Miyamoto family acquiring the berry farm and how they were basically swindled by Etta Heine (Celia Weston) and the legal system following the death of Mrs. Heine's husband. The roundup of Japanese families and their internment in prison camps following the outbreak of World War II was particularly painful to watch recreated on screen, alluding to an unfortunate era in the history of the country.

    However the most agonizing theme that pervades the story is Ishmael's inability to come to terms with the loss of Hatsue. It invades every aspect of his thoughts and his very existence. Eventually this personal torment is eclipsed by the necessity to do the right thing for a fellow human being.

    With a finale reminiscent of the closing scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird", the Miyamoto family stands in unison to proclaim their admiration for Ishmael after he does the right thing by bringing new evidence to the judge presiding over the trial. Just prior to that, Defense Attorney Gudmundsson (Max von Sydow) delivered a stunning summation to jolt Ishmael into recognition of what he must do for the sake of justice and equality. Later, in a quiet moment with Ishmael, the wizened attorney makes a poignant observation that's brilliantly insightful into the human condition - "Accident rules every corner of the universe, except maybe... the chambers of the human heart."
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Snow Falling on Cedars is an amazing film, one that is quite underrated. I have no clue why, either. All the elements are in here that make a movie great, acting, writing, direction, etc. I haven't read through other comments, so I do not yet know what other people think about it, but I know that critical response was mixed and that it did not do well at theaters.

    What I look for most in a film is not writing or acting or even direction. Sure, if a film contains any of those three elements, it could potentially be great. I myself consider a film's mood and tone to be the single most important element, and, if a film produces a powerful mood of any sort, then that film is particularly special. Snow Falling on Cedars produces a powerful mood indeed.


    The overall premise is intriguing in itself: a white boy falls in love with a Japanese girl shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (and, thus, the placement of Japanese-Americans in internment camps). During her stay at an internment camp, the girl falls in love with a Japanese man who is staying there. Meanwhile, the white boy goes to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. After the war, the Japanese man is accused of killing a local white man. Most of this film consists of the courtroom drama. I normally dislike them, finding them boring and annoying. This film does it well. I was intrigued and never bothered, even if it contained several cliches, especially where the attorneys were concerned (I do have to give credit to Max von Sydow, one of the most godly actors the cinema has ever known; he plays the defense attorney).

    All of this rather simple plot (what the film does have to say about racism is worthy, even if it has been done plenty of times before; we can never express the notions enough) is imbued in some of the most heavenly cinematography and music that I've ever experienced. Especially the music, for which, I believe, it was actually nominated for an Oscar, it's only nomination (unfortunately). Also, Scott Hicks shows an enormous amount of the scenes in slow motion to add to the film's melancholy and dreamlike mood. Although the plot is what most people will pay attention to, and thus they will criticize it, I assume, this film is much more successful with its style. It made me fall in love, and it captured my emotions tightly. I would compare it mostly (and favorably, of course) with the masterful The Sweet Hereafter. That is a study in grief, and this is a study in lost love. I give the film a 10/10. It will be one of those films that I will try to push onto other film enthusiasts.
  • Warning: Spoilers

    Love story, murder mystery, war drama, family conflict and to top it off prejudice and racism. A top notch cast: Ethan Hawke, Max Von Sydow, Youki Kudoh, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins, Rick Yune, Eric Thal, Sam Shephard, James Rebhorn, and Celia Weston star in SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, a superb drama directed with sensitivity by Scott Hicks. This film offers a lot to people who love movies about people. There is war action and romance, but no macho, unrealistic steroid kings, and no blonde bimbos decorating the screen.

    Instead there is a secret interracial teenaged romance that takes place inside a wet cedar tree, shrouded in the misty and sopping weather of Washington state. Since they were children, Ishmael Chambers, a white boy and Hatsue Imada, a Japanese born girl, have been playmates. I found this friendship powerful. There is nothing like falling in love with someone you played with on the beach as a child. As their friendship continues over the course of years, they become young lovers, terrified that their parents will discover and put an end to their relationship. Hatsue's mother wants her to marry a Japanese man, and Ishmael's mother worries that her son is heading down the road to heartbreak, because in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the South Pacific events, a relationship like this is doomed.

    The prose of the film is graceful, as we are treated to flashbacks of the childhoods and teen years of Ishmael and Hatsue. In the present, a Japanese fisherman is accused of murdering a white fisherman of German decent. The crime drama, courtroom drama, and flashbacks of war and love all blend smoothly to tell an original and wonderful story. As well as love, prejudice and heartache, we have a twist that involves obsession. All of it ties in together.

    The acting is first rate. Hawke, as usual, portrays his character with soulfulness and gracefulness. He gives the adult Ishmael, a damaged but not bitter man a sense of dignity. Other standouts are Von Sydow as an aging defense attorney who has tremendous compassion, and Rebhorn as a semi-venomous prosecutor in the murder case.

    The cinematography is beautiful. The score by James Newton Howard can only be described by me as "achingly" beautiful. His music seems to breathe emotion into the scenes.

    I can't say enough about what a great, touching film this is!!! A++++++
  • It is a pity that one of the very few Hollywood films that deal with the plight of Japanese- Americans during WWII should, though based on a fairly good novel, descend to such extraordinary lengths to "prove" that the incarceration of innocent people is a national disgrace. You would think that an intelligent audience might be trusted to know this without having it explained to death, and that it would need none of the self-indulgent, frequently manipulative "pathos" that mars this extremely kitschy film. Some of it is good. Much of it is so mistrustful of its audience that nothing--not even the deportation of the Japanese to concentration camps--can be depicted without a heavy-handed, editorializing musical score that owes more to Karl Orff than it contributes to the dramatic situation. Some of the performances, particularly that of Sam Sheperd, are excellent. The direction, the editing, are embarrassingly derivative. Characters are either impossibly noble and likable or so unambiguously dreadful that you wonder their neighbors allowed them to go on living. There is no middle ground. Shades of gray, absent from the director's mind, are nowhere to be found in his film. Ultimately there is nothing here but a second-rate film director exhibiting his unwillingness to let the material speak for itself. The movie should be awarded a prize for the most intrusively manipulative musical score in recent film history.
  • While the original novel was a beautifully written, compelling courtroom drama as well as a thoughtful reflection on the disgraceful racist treatment of Japanese Americans before, during, and after WWII, the film version of Snow Falling on Cedars falls flat dramatically and thematically. To be sure, the film ambitiously strives to capture David Guterson's poetic prose through some breathtaking cinematography along with some much less impressive heavy-editing and extreme close-up composition. The overall impression, unfortunately, recalls a musical `etude' – as though the director, Scott Hicks, and cinematographer, Robert Richardson, were most interested in presenting an exhaustive study in low-light visuals (even the trial takes place during brownouts and power outages) and in extreme narrative fragmentation (think: Faulknerian flashbacks represented via Eisenstein or MTV montage).

    Narrative coherence definitely takes a back seat to visual and auditory exercise. Indeed the film was stylistically heavy-handed in just about every element of filmmaking, from its intrusively moody `Asian' soundtrack to its post-modern pastiche of images from such superior movies as To Kill A Mockingbird and Casablanca. I found myself literally getting dizzy at several of the many junctures in the film in which the whirl of technique is overwhelming – and, understand, I have a high tolerance, even a taste, for extremely formalistic filmmaking. This was too much, and simply the wrong generic/story materials for such an artistic assault. Characterization was lost. Emotion was lost. And, most damagingly, the important thematic point was lost.
  • balithomas24 November 2019
    I've never actually heard of this movie, so it was a great experience to discover it. It runs in slow teppo, but where is it just beautifully made.
  • This is a slow film, but it has so much going on. Great cast and top notch DOP work, incredible filming. Hawke is a little wasted but I wouldn't trade him in the role. Time has been kind to this film, and it deserves to be rediscovered. Solid filmmaking and a cult film in the making. This is far from a poor.
  • A rich story which reveals truth through flashbacks and overlaps where themes and motivations come to light and intersperse with the film's plot. The editing and photography is carefully produced and echoes the themes to produce a memorable technique of storytelling. The forest as a device for a theme makes the film evocative as do the locations and weather. The lead character, Ishamael is an observer to the plot, allowing the story to take flight, until he acts and the conclusion can be reached. The acting is terrific for its delicate characterisation, especially Max Von Sidow as the immigrant defending the immigrant and his worldly wisdom is played to perfection. If there is a criticism it may come in the structure which is sometimes clunky but this is for the benefit of brevity and the need to be succinct - the film avoids dragging its heels.
  • It's 1950s Washington State. Fisherman Carl Heine's body is found. Japanese fisherman Kabuo Miyamoto is accused of the murder. Sheriff Art Moran (Richard Jenkins) and prosecutor Alvin Hooks (James Rebhorn) lead the prosecution. Nels Gudmundsson (Max von Sydow) is the defense lawyer. Judge Fielding (James Cromwell) presides over the court. Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) is the only reporter in this small town. He's a returning vet with only one arm who still loves Kazuo's wife Hatsue from his childhood. In flashbacks, Ishmael and Hatsue struggle against war paranoia. Ishmael's father Arthur Chambers (Sam Shepard) is hounded for supporting the Japanese in his newspaper.

    It's got the snowy romantic moody atmosphere. However it lives too much off of it. The murder mystery is given short shrift. While watching the movie, I kept wanting the case be presented in a coherent way. The romance, the operatic style, and the prejudice are important but they keep getting into the way of the trial and investigation. This needs a short section where Sheriff Moran explains the case against Kabuo in a neat tidy package.
  • In "To Kill a Mockingbird", a man, Tom Robinson, is accused of rape, largely because he is African-American, and because he was kissed by a white woman in the rural 1930's South. In "Snow Falling on Cedars", a Japanese-American in the Northwest is accused of murder because a white fisherman is found dead in his fishing net not long after World War II. The setting is in the wake of racial animosity because of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The case is largely brought forth because of prejudicial attitudes prevalent at the time rather than strong evidence. (Ironically, German-Americans did not suffer the same fate as the Japanese during the same period.) The brilliance of the film, which I assume is more or less faithful to the book, is its handling of several separate but intertwined stories. At the forefront is the murder trial of Kazuo Miyamoto, a young Japanese-American in the 1950's who fought on the American side of World War II, played brilliantly understated by Rick Yune. He is accused of murdering Carl Heine, a fellow fisherman, who now has land previously owned by Japanese who were forced to give it up (as well as most of their possessions) when they were unjustly forced into interment camps on the West Coast.

    The other stories involve Hatsue Miyamoto (played wonderfully by Youki Kudoh) and Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke in possibly his best performance since "Reality Bites") as star-crossed lovers before adulthood. We learn, largely through flash-backs, that the American white boy and Japanese girl met and fell in love on the eve of Japanese-American internment. Their story parallels the later court case, and the loss of their relationship is because of the racial divides imposed by the US Government, fearing that all Japanese-Americans were suspect because of their ancestry, rather than any evidence they were actually secretly in conspiracy with the Japanese Empire. The love between Hatsue and Ishmael is told through flash-backs. Hatsue is now the wife of the accused, and Ishmael has followed in the footsteps of his father and become a reporter and journalist. We learn that Ishmael still has strong feelings for the woman who once loved him when they were but children, but he is side-lined from their lives.

    Like "Mockingbird", "Cedars" is largely about the tragedy of prejudice and racism. One aspect of the story which emerges, possibly not consciously, is how the Japanese-Americans are largely similar to their white counterparts. They like much of the popular American music of the 1940's, they play games, they enjoy good food and wine. Of course, their interests in Buddhism are different, but I believe the point of the story is that the similarities between cultures are often overlooked in favor of our few differences. Although most of the focus is on the white community being wary of their Japanese neighbors, in a poignant scene, the young Hatsue is told by her good-intentioned mother that her daughter should not look at white boys, and should marry a Japanese boy. So prejudice cuts in both directions, often with tragic results. Some of the most heinous crimes in human history are perpetrated out of fear. And if someday, we could let go of our fears of "the other", maybe the world would be a better place.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Great movie but a missed chance at some irony. The plot revolves around a racially charge post WW2 America and a murder case of Kazuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, War in Europe Veteran, accused of killing Carl Heine, fisherman. Ishmael Chambers, an amputee Veteran from the War in the Pacific and news reporter realizes that Carl was thrown overboard by the force of a wake created by a freighter, the S. S. West Corona. The opportunity lost there was the suspect freighter could have been a Japanese flagged freighter like the Hikawamaru which had returned to it's Seattle Water Route in 1953. At the end of the story someone could have asked what ship caused the wake. Then of course the truth that the freighter was Japanese flagged could come out.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In general I give this film rather high marks. It does a very good job of portraying the resentment toward the Japanese after World War II, as well as the general racism against Asians in that area at that time. I was particularly impressed with the courtroom scene where a White female landowner (I suppose she saw herself as a "real American") demonstrates her prejudice against foreigners, even though she herself had a strong foreign accent.

    I saw this film on cable when it first came to television, and now again a dozen years later. When I first saw the film I was impressed with young Ethan Hawke. I haven't been very impressed with him since.

    I am not a big fan of flashbacks, although they have their place. Some directors rely on them way too much, and that is evident in this film. I found it made the story a bit confusing in parts. And I had to laugh at one of our reviewers who said the story couldn't be told in sequence. Really? A story that occurs in sequence can't be told in sequence? This film has SOME flashbacks for the sake of having flashbacks.

    The cinematography here is excellent, and some scenes are particularly memorable. The rounding up of the Japanese in order to send them to relocation camps is a haunting sequence.

    As good as the "round up" sequence was, PARTS of the courtroom scenes were equally bad. Key testimony was quite good, but to show the blur of the trial, there were lousy slow motion scenes with muffled sounds. I was not impressed.

    As mentioned, Ethan Hawke was very good here as the young newspaper man struggling with idealism. James Cromwell was very good as the judge, in part because in his career you never quite knew whether he was going to be the good guy or the bad guy. Richard Jenkins is not a handsome guy, which is probably why he is so underrated as an actor; he does very nicely here as the sheriff. A highlight of the film is Max von Sydow as the defense attorney!!! And Rick Yune was appropriately stoic as the young Japanese man on trail.

    This is a darned good film, despite a few faults. Recommended, though it didn't end up on my DVD shelf.
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