Snow Falling on Cedars
Academy Award® Nominee
Set in 1954 on an island in the Pacific Northwest, this tale of love undone by societal pressures and familial customs is an exploration of truth, justice, and vagaries of the human heart. Based on... View more >
disturbing images, sensuality and brief strong language
Starring Ethan Hawke, Youki Kudoh, Max von Sydow... View more >
Oscar® Nominated for Cinematography
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During a cold day in January, I had the pleasure of seeing the heartwarmimg film "Snow Falling On Cedars." It combines visual beauty, authentic acting, accurate history, and a timeless storyline. The stark coldness is a metaphor for the human heart, yet the falling snow reminds us of the redemptive possibilities in its purity and gentleness. The acting is wonderfully subtle, particularly YoukiKudoh's performance, who is an English-speaking Japanese singer-actress. She has just the right mix of quiet intensity and smoldering beauty. I'm happy to say that the film's depiction of racism towards Japanese and Japanese-Americans is historically accurate and emotionally on target. The scenes of Japanese-Americans being "herded away" are both true and chilling. The film does a muchbetter job of showing us that shameful fact than does the romanticized "Come See the Paradise." The story is timeless in that it touches on the mixed emotions of love/hate, scorn/admiration, and rejection/acceptance in authentic scenes throughout the film. In addition, there are no clear "winners" and "losers" as so many simplistic American movies would have us believe. There are only people living real lives. There's only one point about the film that irritated me. Like countless other American films, it has a god-awful soundtrack more suited to a horror film than serious drama. Overall, it is an excellent movie that almost anyone can enjoy and learn from.
This is a well done movie, but I suggest that you should read the book before seeing it. The reason for my suggesting is there is much that is left that needs clarification as to what had transpired leading to the trial.
I have to agree with the other review on the quality of the story and the depiction of the prejudices that existed.
Very Good movie... a new story line. Well filmed and acted. There were a few slow moments but all in all a good movie.
I think this movie was a great family movie, or a movie for anyone! I watched the movie in great awe with the history and time period working for itself. The backrounds and costumes were great, the actors fit the people, and the setting of the movie was perfect.
Scott Hicks' visually stunning "Snow Falling on Cedars" is a film whose attention to the emotional state of its characters causes it to transcend its cinematic limitations and echo throughout the soul of the viewer. It is a towering achievement -- a film about love, prejudice, obsession, lost innocence, and how they all intertwine and force those involved to find the answers they seek within the labyrinthine maze of their own hearts.
The story takes place post World War II, in a small pacific northwest town where a crime has been committed. A fisherman is found drowned in a lake and a young Japanese military officer (Rick Yune) finds himself on trial for the man's apparent murder. The trial is being covered by a young newspaperman named Ishmael (Ethan Hawke), who we learn has a "history" with the officer's wife (Youki Kudoh). They were childhood sweethearts, although we learn the depth of their love had reached a power one can only speculate on having not actually felt it. It seems that the enterprising journalist has come across some vital piece of information which could set the accused man free, returning him to his wife and children. Naturally, Ishmael finds himself conflicted with what course of action to take. He is still deeply torn inside between the feelings for his lost love, the fear of not being able to live up to the moral standards set by his father, his resentment toward the path his life has taken after the war, and his obligation to do the right thing. From the audience's perspective, the answer would seem fairly obvious, but Ishmael's tragic obsession with love now out of his grasp filters through every fabric of the story. It's not merely resentment toward the woman he loved and wanted to spend the rest of his life with -- that would be too simple. Instead, he seems to resent himself for loving with such omnipotent passion.
But Ishmael's obsession is only part of the story here. A good portion of the film is told in flashback where we are witness to the unspeakable horror faced by innocent Japanese-American citizens during World War II. In one scene, a father is taken into custody for having dynamite in his possession. He pleads his case (it is used for the clearing of farmland) but to no avail. He is escorted away from his loved ones, along with the family's collection of personal items and heirlooms -- everything which defines their heritage and very being. (In a typically cruel moment, one of the officers leading the father out of his home pauses long enough to take the Japanese wind chime gently swaying on the porch.)
We also see the prejudicial attitude manifested in the townspeople and the ways that hatred shows it's ugly head. For example, there are several references made about not being able to read the emotions of a Japanese individual by looking at his face. Of course, this is not true, but is stated by some probably in the hopes it won't make them sound prejudiced while giving them the narcissistic freedom to decry someone they feel have infringed upon their own
rights. Or consider the scene where the town prosecutor (James Rebhorn), while giving his summation, calls upon the jury to do their duty as Americans...on a day curiously near the anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
The above description probably makes the movie sound like a docu-drama, but it isn't. Director Scott ("Shine") Hicks has made a very poetic movie -- one that seems to accent every emotional chord and crescendo. When the heartbroken newspaperman reads the farewell note from his true love, the audience doesn't hear the full letter, but the letter's most painful line over and over, mixed in with various shots of Ishmael lost (both emotionally and physically) in the
battlefield -- the words piercing his soul and possibly severing his ability to ever find contentment again. Robert Richardson's magnificent cinematography coupled with James Newton Howard's haunting musical score help raise the film to poetic proportions.
To feel this strongly for the characters would require top notch performances, and the movie is filled with them. Ethan Hawke, who has many of the same leading man traits as an actor like Harrison Ford, does a good job of showing us all the sides of Ishmael, which allows us to really understand why the decision he had to make wasn't easy for him. Youki Kudoh is also good as the object of Ishmael's indescribable passion. Between the trial scenes and the flashback sequences, her character goes through a number of changes, and her performance successfully captures every soul-searching climax. And as the defense attorney, Max Von Sydow has some very nice moments, most notably during the summation, where he doesn't target the jury's conscience or play to their ability to determine right from wrong, but rather talks to them the way a grandfather would talk to a group of intelligent, sensitive teenagers. He explains the case from his own perspective, and it's very moving. In a way, that speech parallels the movie's main impact. Many films speak to our minds, our emotions, our senses. "Snow Falling on Cedars" seems to speak directly to our hearts.
--Michael Brendan, "Mad Dog" Film Reviews (www.maddogreviews.com)
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