Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) Poster

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10/10
Beautifully crafted and compelling story
FlickJunkie-24 July 2000
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.
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9/10
Almost perfect
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.
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9/10
Love in the Cold
Chris_Docker27 May 2000
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").
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9/10
Graceful
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.
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10/10
Magnificent - the best of the year.
BBlake27 January 2000
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.
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10/10
On of the Best Films of '99
jhclues4 July 2002
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.
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8/10
Winter landscape
jotix10015 May 2006
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.
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9/10
It's "Stand By Me" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" blended into one.
mhasheider25 June 2001
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".
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flawed but rewarding film
Roland E. Zwick3 June 2000
`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.
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6/10
The Good & Bad Of 'Snow Falling On Cedars'
ccthemovieman-112 August 2006
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.
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6/10
Proves how editing can ruin a could-have-been-great-film
Big Red-41 June 2000
The directing, acting, story and cinematograpy were all absolutely beautiful. Too bad the editing ruined the film. The story is terribly pieced together in a manner which will leave the audience confused to the end. I understand what was trying to be done, a unique style of editing seen in The Limey and Ordinary People. However they just didnt pull it off. The story in Snow was just too complex to rely completely on that flashback editing style and is confusing.
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7/10
Cedars of Lebanon
sol7 April 2006
***SPOILERS*** Beautifully photographer period piece, 1941-1950, about a pre-Pearl Harbor forbidden love affair between a young all-Amerian boy Ishmeal Chambers , Ethen Hawke,and Japanese-American girl Hatsue Imanda, Youki Kudoh. The love affair became an obsession with Ishmeal after Hatsue, with the urging of her Japanese parents, left him for another man Japanese-American and WWII war hero Kazom Yamoto, Rick Yune.

It's now ten years later and Kazom is on trial for the murder of local Washington State fisherman Carl Heine, Eric Thal. Carls family had been involved in a bitter dispute over some land that was taken from Kazoms wife's, Hatsue, family during their interment in a US concentration camp during WWII.

Ishmeal now a reporter for his late fathers Arthur Chambers, Sam Shepard, town newspaper "The Island Review" is covering the Kazom Yamoto murder trial and the emotions that it bring out; Kazom having married his child-hood sweetheart Hatsue, are interfering with his objectivity in reporting the trial.

Defended by local defense attorney Nels Gudmundsson, Max Von Sydon, who has his hands full in trying to keep out the fact that Kazom, who's a highly decorated WWII veteran, being Japanese is somehow through guilt-by-ancestry responsible for the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the then Japan Tojo government. This line of questioning by the state attorney Alvin Hooks, James Rebhorn, brings the worst out of what the trial of Kazom Yamoto shouldn't be about. Since it has nothing to do with the death, or murder, of Carl Heine but everything to do with the treatment of the Japanese-Americans living on the west coast by the US government during WWII.

Ishmael who was brought up in a very liberal household with his father almost losing his newspaper, due to falling sales, by sticking out his neck after Pearl Harbor in defending the Japanese-Americans in town.In his editorializing against the US government policy of putting them in internment camps and taking away their properties. Now he's doing just the opposite of what his late father did by letting his emotions, in Ishmeal's resentment of Kazom for taking Hatsue away from him, override his sound judgment in that the evidence against Kozom isn't air tight. Ishmeal is also very bitter toward Japanese-Americans Kazom and Hatsue in that he lost his left arm in, what looked like the November 1943 battle of Tarawa,the Pacific fighting as a US Marine against the Imperial Japanese Army.

Eerie drama that grips you like a blistering North Pacific snowstorm and hold your interests for over two hours until the final verdict comes in not just on the fate of Kazom Yamoto but the heart and soul of Ishmeal Chambers. Who's has been greatly hurt by Hatsue rejecting him and then staggeringly traumatized over the trial and the real and dark, reasons behind it. That Ishmeal at first, because of his past and sad experiences with Hatsue blindly and conveniently overlooked.
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5/10
Paint Drying on Wall
justincward25 September 2005
Beautiful paint, granted. But still taking ages to dry. One day I'll find myself bored enough to watch this to the end and I'll find out the verdict (if there is one). The most tedious parts are the 'young love' scenes - if intended to be erotic, they fail - and the Japanese internment sequence just induces mild pity, not anger or shame. SFOC just puts style before entertainment, and in the end it's just a super-glorified courtroom drama. There also seem to be loads of eclectic cinematic references, eg playing chess with Max Von S, and others mentioned below - but why? This seems to be an admission that the film can't sustain itself as a straightforward story, so that they put in stuff for movie buffs to amuse themselves with in the meantime. And how come these fishermen are so good-looking? No, sorry, this film is simply overwrought.
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2/10
Beautiful to look at, empty inside
montcocher22 December 2002
Just as the book was rather too self-consciously 'literary' - desperately over-written and in need of drastic editing - so the film indulges itself in luscious, dazzling photography to tell a thin story. There are just too many beautiful shots that say nothing: it's more of a filmic coffee table book than the work of a true film-maker. And this hides the fact that, while the story is an important one, its treatment here is superficial, sentimental, trite and predictable. A lot of talent has gone to waste on self-indulgent twaddle that never rises above the level of a TV mini-series.
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5/10
Cinematography is dreamy, but that's about it.
gromit-171 April 2001
I found this movie lacks of tension and material is too thin to stretch out for a movie over two hours. Therefore we've got plenty of pretty flash back but served no purpose. It tells the story about Japanese Americans during the World War II, but I didn't feel I know any of the character better after the movie. Maybe they've never been given a chance to express their feelings. In a way, it's a movie about stereotype but is a stereotype itself. That's ironic. I was very surprised to find out it's the same director for *Shine* and the number of known actors in it. They certainly didn't add much value to this movie.
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3/10
A Snow-job Falling on Cedars
holdie26 April 2007
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.
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All the ingredients of a wonderful movie!!!
PeachHamBeach19 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
CAUTION, POSSIBLE 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++++++
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6/10
Stunningly shot, adventurously edited, but unsatisfying adaptation of fine novel..
EThompsonUMD14 August 2000
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.
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4/10
What an atrocious, pretentious, over-glossed film. (I say shoot the editors)
FilmSchoolWriter21 February 2007
Scott Hick's "Snow Falling on Cedars" is a lovely film – really it is. Based on the book by David Guterson, "Snow Falling on Cedars" surrounds a murder trial taking place on a small fishing island off the coast of Washington State. Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of a fisherman, Carl Heine (Eric Thal). But of course, the trial isn't simply a matter of murder, it's a matter of racial prejudice in a post-WWII era. Covering the story for the local newspaper is Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke); who just happens to be in love with Miyamoto's wife, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh).

The story is good. Rather "Casablanca"-esque. Maybe a little bit of "To Kill a Mockingbird", but it works. The screenplay, too, is well written with dialogue that fits the story and Hicks's point (he served as screenwriter in addition to directing).

Acting wise, "Snow Falling on Cedars" is fine. Just fine. Nothing outrageously bad. Nothing outrageously good. (Although Max von Sydow gives a notable performance as Nels and Yune's performance is not without its merits) Ishmael Chambers is Hawke's standard role: brooding, compassionate, emotionally and physically wounded. But his performance is poor. The character deserved cold passion – not just distant stares. This is a film, not a book. We have no way of knowing what is going on inside our protagonist's head. The casting of Kudoh as Hatsue might have been a mistake as well. Not that she isn't good (she's fine), but it is a notable part of the story that Hatsue and Kazuo – though of Japanese heritage – are *Americans*.

No one can ignore the beautiful cinematography of "Snow Falling on Cedars". The images of the island in winter are breathtaking. In that aspect, "Snow Falling on Cedars" is almost a Western in that the landscape and weather are as much a part of the story as the characters we are faced with. And from that, comes the editing. What can be said about the editing? It's safe to say that "Snow Falling on Cedars" would never have been released had it been created in Hollywood's Studio Era. Rather, the editors would have had their heads chopped up and their bodies impaled on pikes as warnings to all editors to come: DO NOT MAKE EDITING OBVIOUS. IT DISTRACTS FROM THE STORY. In "Snow Falling on Cedars", there is no way that you *cannot* notice the editing. It's – everywhere. All the time. In fact, it's practically omniscient. To put it gently, "Snow Falling on Cedars" is just one giant montage. To put it frankly, someone got a *little* too happy when it came to editing. And by a little too happy, I mean a LOT too happy. There is not a single five minute sequence without some sort of creative editing tweak or artistic camera angle. This is Hicks's attempt to out-gloss, out-imagine Orson Welles and "Citizen Kane." And it ruins the movie. The editing is just so pretentious and *there* that nothing else exists on screen.

"Snow Falling on Cedars" had potential. But it fails miserably. The cinematography and scenery may be stunning, but the editing ruins the film. No, I take that back. It doesn't ruin the film, it drops a nice big atomic bomb on it, so that all the audience gets is an f-ed up collage of gloss better suited for a midnight avant-garde screening than a full fledged cinema. A waste of my time. Avoid at all costs.
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3/10
A rather dull movie, based on an excellent novel
bjornet19 February 2001
Snow Falling on Cedars is, unfortunately, not very interesting. Read the book by David Guterson instead. I know that this sort of comment is of the most irritating kind. It is really hard to adopt quality novels for the screen, but unlike for example "The Cider House Rules", the result in this case is almost an insult on the original work.

Director Scott Hicks seems desperate in trying to follow the original work in as much detail as possible. The result is both confusing an rather uninteresting, with little left of the tension and well-written dialogue of the novel.

In trying to capture the beautifully described feelings of the book: love, guilt, anger and depression, the result in the film is only a gloomy and dull picture that never captures the viewer.

Additionally, Ethan Hawke is surprisingly pale in his lead role. However, Max von Sydow is excellent as always in his role as lawyer Nels Gudmundsson.

I hate to say it, but if you have read the book and liked it: don't see this film. You will only be disappointed. If you haven't read the book and want to see just another American drama movie, you might appreciate Snow Falling on Cedars.
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5/10
Psuedo Art
hroeder23 November 2000
This is a movie made by people who think they understand what film is about. By hiring Max Van Sydow it is clear that the venerated director is Bergman. By putting it in a snowy cold scene with literary and biblical names, with Van Sydow even playing chess again, we have all of this little artsy pieces put together.

But there's no meaning here. There is very little story here. Maybe a half hour of an A&E special, or one of those PBS imports that are so self important.

This is tedius tedius tedius. When there is artful photography it is pretty, but that's all it is. Some beautiful images. some stupid images. A whole bunch of imagination.

The film opens with a boat, and a man with a lantern. . .oh my we're going to cross over the river to the next world. And we're in a fishing community with a reluctant hero named Ishmael. The whole subplot about Japanese interment camps has nothing to do with the plot or the film. It probably had a lot to do with the novelist's life; but in this case it makes for a subplot that is nothing but distraction.

There is a wonderful eye here, at times. When the young couple are in the ceder tree and "rain is flowing off of ferns" it is truly a sensual image. Very evocative. But the rest of it is at best imitative.

To see the real thing, what this movie might have been see The Sweet Hereafter.
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Trips over itself, alas
jonr-318 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
There's a British expression, "Too clever by half," that came to my mind about an hour and twenty minutes into this film--a film which could have been exceptionally good, but manages only somewhat-above-average status because of its excessive artiness.

There's no lack of drama, and, rare for American films, there's moral content aplenty. All the more shame that a movie that contains not only those elements but some of the most beautiful images I've ever seen on a screen, ultimately falls flat because of self-indulgent, confusing, and downright silly "artistic" overflow.

I voted "7" but dearly wish I could give this film a ten because after all it does take either guts or considerable financial risk-taking to make an American film that requires its audience actually to think, and to think about serious matters of life, death, and human relationships and responsibilities. I wholeheartedly commend the backers of this film for taking that big risk, and I just as wholeheartedly regret the missed opportunities in the final product.

-----WARNING: (minor, early-plot) SPOILER FOLLOWS-----------------------

It was interesting to watch the scene in which the sheriff has to carry out the painful task of delivering the death message to Mrs. Heine. It's virtually a replay, and obviously a homage, to the scene in Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light" (1963) in which the pastor (played by Gunnar Björnstrand) must drive to the home of Max von Sydow's character to tell his widow of his suicide. The very next scene in "Snow Falling on Cedars" takes place in the courtroom -- with Max von Sydow in a sterling performance as the defense attorney. I found this reference touching and beautiful.
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6/10
Falls Disappointingly Short of Greatness
comquest31 July 2000
At times, "Snow Falling on Cedars" borders on greatness. The film is visually stylish and the actors handle their roles well.

The story revolves around a teenage love affair between a caucasian boy and a Japanese-American girl on an island off the coast of Washington state ... and later in their adult lives ... a murder trial in which her Japanese American husband is accused of killing a local fisherman.

Set in the era before, during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film uses this story as a backdrop to expose the injustices that were perpetrated against innocent Japanese Americans living in the U.S. We watch as they are stripped of their homes and belongings, victimized by racial bigotry, separated from their families and herded into federal government Relocation Centers -- an oh-so-polite term for concentration camps.

What a powerful and emotionally charged topic! The opportunities for high drama endless. Right?

Yes, but not here. The extreme overuse of flashback/flash-forward techniques and a poorly organized screenplay combine to make this movie unbelievably difficult to follow. It gradually degrades into a virtual mish-mash where all sense of time, place and drama are lost. A potentially compelling film is, sadly, rendered hopelessly impotent.

Very disappointing ... especially when you consider how great this film could -- and should -- have been.
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6/10
Pretty and Slow and/or pretty slow
Bernie-2011 February 2000
I got the feeling they took the pretty pictures first, then added good background music to the pretty pictures and then as an afterthought wrote a script to fit the above. The whole thing was mildly interesting but several times I found myself looking at my watch wondering why we were getting this same flashback.
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9/10
What I look for most in modern film
zetes17 May 2001
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.

SPOILERS

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.
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