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USA 1999
Directed by
Scott Hicks
127 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Snow Falling On Cedars

After the success of Shine (1996) which gave Geoffrey Rush his Best Actor Oscar, the door to the Big Time opened for director Scott Hicks. With Snow Falling on Cedars a top shelf property in the form of David PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel of the same name, Hicks could realize his taste for the picturesque and somewhat sentimentalizing view of humankind. That he had names such as Ethan Hawke, Max von Sydow, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard on his cast list was the icing on the cake.

Set on the fictional island of San Piedro in America’s Pacific Northwest in 1950 when anti-Japanese sentiment was still running high, the film tells the story of the trial of a Japanese-American, Kabuo Miyamoto, accused of killing an Anglo-American fisherman. Covering the case is the editor of the town's one-man newspaper, Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), a World War II veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese. Ishmael struggles to respond to the situation. Not only has his deceased  father (Sam Shepard) imbued him with a commitment to social justice and the obligations of investigative journalism but his situation is complicated by the fact that Kabuo's now-wife, Hatsue, was his first love and the embers still smoulder.

Guterson's novel is evidently a well-crafted literary text that explores in general the tragic effects of racism and specifically the little-known fact of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during the war (ironically, native-born Kabuo was decorated during the war fighting the Japanese). Hicks who adapted the novel with Ron Bass, has done a fine job of transferring the inter-woven threads of the story to the screen well-aided by Robert Richardson's Oscar-nominated cinematography, Jeannine Oppewall’s production design, Hank Corwin’s editing and music by James Newton Howard that all combine into a richly multi-layered story. 

Achieving the oft-hard to realize balance between the particulars of the actual story and the larger historical back-drop against which they play out Snow Falling on Cedars is a quality production and Hick's best film to date.




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