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Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

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A U.S. Japanese fisherman may have killed his neighbor Carl at sea. In the 1950s, race figures into the trial. So does reporter Ishmael.



(novel), (screenplay) (as Ron Bass) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 5 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hatsue Miyamoto (as Youki Kudoh)
Anne Suzuki ...
Nels Gudmundsson (as Max Von Sydow)
Alvin Hooks
Judge Fielding
Sheriff Art Moran
Susan Marie Heine
Carl Heine Jr.
Etta Heine
Carl Heine Sr. (as Daniel Von Bargen)
Hisao Imada
Fujiko Imada


It's 1950 on San Pedro Island in the American Pacific Northwest. Commercial fisher Carl Heine Jr.'s dead body is pulled out of the water in a fishing net by his crew, he who died of head trauma. Kazuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. Carl and Kazuo were once friends, had known each other since childhood, but WWII has placed a strain on any sort of relationship between the ethic Japanese and Caucasian populations of the area, the Japanese population which was and is still substantial on the island. Carl had motive regarding a land dispute between the two families, land which Carl's mother eventually sold from under the Miyamotos and which Carl had just repurchased. Evidence also points to Kazuo being on the water with Carl probably sometime during his last voyage, evidence which Kazuo knew would put him in a bad light, adding on top of being Japanese, and thus decided not to disclose to the investigating sheriff at the time he was questioned. Kazuo and his wife Hatsue's fear come ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


From the director of 'Shine' See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sensuality and brief strong language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



| |

Release Date:

7 January 2000 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mientras nieva sobre los cedros  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$32,135 (USA) (24 December 1999)


$14,378,353 (USA) (10 March 2000)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


A lot of the scenes were also filmed in a town of Greenwood in British Columbia, Canada. A lot of the Japanese extras were also Japanese Canadians who were interned during there war. See more »


The judge is wearing glasses with ARC (anti-reflective coating). This was not available to consumers during the 1950s. See more »


Ishmael Chambers: I know you'll think this is crazy, but all I want to do is hold you, and I think that if you'll let me do that just for a few seconds, I can walk away, and never speak to you again.
See more »


Featured in Spotlight on Location: Snow Falling on Cedars (2000) See more »


Laudate Dominum
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as W. A. Mozart)
Performed by Aled Jones and the BBC Welch Chorus
Courtesy of BBC Music
See more »

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User Reviews

flawed but rewarding film
3 June 2000 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

`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.

11 of 17 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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I LOVE this movie, but... queen_supreme-1
too many flashbacks spookvile0803
hatsue never love ismael? antiquegirl12
Hatsu Jen175
love this movie natz62
End of Movie spikedmort
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