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
Stunningly shot, adventurously edited, but unsatisfying adaptation of fine novel..
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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