Snow Falling on Cedars
Ethan Hawke - Great Performance
‘Snow Falling On Cedars’ (1999) was derived from a masterful novel of the same name, set against real-life American history and penned by first-time writer, David Guterson. Director, Scott Hicks (‘Shine’ 1996, ‘Hearts In Atlantis’ 2001, ‘No Reservations’ 2007), has skillfully brought this original story to the big screen. The story is set in a fictional small town of San Piedro located on the coast of Washington State. The main part of the story occurs during the period leading up to and just after World War II. The community of San Piedro includes a population of Japanese families that work, live, and play side by side with their Anglo neighbors.
As the story opens, just after the end of the war, a well-respected local fisherman is found dead in his own nets. Refusing to believe that this could be anything but murder, a likely scapegoat is found in another local fisherman, Kazou Miyamoto (Rick Yune, ‘The Fast And The Furious’ 2001, ‘Die Another Day’ 2002), who also just happened to be involved in a land dispute with the victim. Miyamoto is not helped by his upbringing that has taught him to be stoic in the face of adversity, thus coming off as cool and uncaring to the jury at his trial.
The film frequently shifts to past events and we learn that at the core of the story is character, Ishmael Chambers, who as a young lad had become smitten with Hatsue; who is now married to Kazou. Their grown up roles are played by Ethan Hawk (‘Training Day’ 2001, ‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ 2007) and Youki Kudoh (‘Memoirs Of A Geisha’ 2005 , ‘Rush Hour 3’ 2007). As youngsters they begin to realize that their relationship is not acceptable to those around them; and the events around Pearl Harbor further doom any future they may have envisioned. We witness the entire Japanese population of San Piedro being shipped off to the Manzanar internment camp. While Ishmael never wavers in his love for Hatsue; she cannot bear the improbability of their future and breaks off the relationship with a crushing letter to Ishmael. Serving in the army when he receives this message, he becomes despondent and is gravely wounded; eventually losing an arm. As the story shifts back to the present, most of the Japanese residents have returned to San Piedro and are trying to rebuild their shattered lives in an atmosphere of paranoia and prejudice. Ishmael is still attracted to but also bitter towards Hatsue, but may be in a position to affect her fate.
Max von Sydow (a pedigree too huge to cite here) plays the curmudgeonly lawyer assigned to defend Kazou and nearly steals the show with some great lines. But the other ‘star’ here is the cinematography; handled by Robert Richardson. ‘Snow’ did not garner any Oscars, but was nominated in this category by the Academy and a few other organizations. Hicks also contributes by employing a number of effects and shots that add to the mood of this film. The script is richly layered with themes and subplots and is really faithful to the novel it is based on. This is a rarity in my experience, and I usually dismiss that connection altogether when considering such films. “Snow’ delivers a real period look and feel and gives you characters that you can actually be interested in. Given the romantic angle, it could possibly qualify as a date-movie as well. This is one movie that shouldn’t leave you cold.