Snow Falling on Cedars

Years of longing: Ishmael (Hawke) is still in love with Hatsue (Kudoh, in the reflection) after all these years...
dir Scott Hicks
scr Ron Bass, Scott Hicks
with Ethan Hawke, Youki Kudoh, Rick Yune, Max Von Sydow, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins, James Rebhorn, Sam Shepherd, Arija Bareikis, Max Wright, Celia Weston, Zeljko Ivanek
Universal 99/US 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
With absolutely stunning (Oscar nominated) cinematography by Robert Richardson, insightful direction and a magical, gentle tone, Snow Falling on Cedars is an enveloping, literary film experience. And while it's very slow-moving and ponderous, the film has the ability to take you away for two hours as it slowly unwraps its romantic, mysterious and dramatic storyline.

The plot travels from the late 1930s to the early 1950s on a remote Washington island, centring on Ishmael Chambers (Hawke), a young journalist who has been obsessed with his Japanese-American neighbour Hatsue (Kudoh) since childhood. Their romance is a kind of Romeo & Juliet affair, forbidden on racial grounds even before the horrors of WWII arrive, sending the Japanese residents off to concentration camps as paranoia takes over the community. But that was nine years ago. And now Ishmael has the key to clear Hatsue's husband (Kune) of a murder charge. Will he continue his obsession, feeding the town's lingering racism, or will he do the right thing for once?

Every aspect of the film works beautifully to tell this essentially simple morality tale. And it's all wonderfully understated, from the finely measured performances (the supporting cast is especially good) to the gorgeous images and textures. Even the editing is a work of art as it jumps around in time, piecing together the current mystery as well as the characters' joint and separate past experiences. Wonderful stuff! And if there's any complaint it's that the film takes itself too seriously--it seems to think it's terribly complicated and deep, when actually there aren't many surprises in here, nothing really grabs hold and shakes us up as it should. But never mind ... just sit back and soak in the artistry of it all.

[15-- adult themes, violence and gore, language] 2.May.00
US release 24.Dec.99; UK release 12.May.00

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Tran.Ho, Australia: "The music and landscapes in this movie hold you in a trance. When i read the book i found that the movie is amazingly good adaption." (22.Feb.05)
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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall