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In the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, American Japanese were pilloried as aliens with the same ferocity as if they were fighting the war. Even after the war. In this social context of the early 50s, the murder trial of a young Japanese fisherman Miyamoto (Rick Yune), in the isolated, bleak northern region of Puget Sound, on the (fictional) island of San Piedro, where snow and fog and the bleak grey of winter are frequent visitors, becomes a window to the larger issues of prejudice. Reporting the trial is Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), son of the late newspaper editor of the island, Arthur (Sam Shepard), whose sense of justice was never buried beneath the snow of xenophobia. But Ishmael carries a torch for Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), wife of the accused - and his secret childhood girlfriend, who chose to marry a Japanese boy instead. When Ishmael uncovers material evidence that could help Miyamoto, he is torn and confused about what to do.

"A complete cinematic experience, Snow Falling on Cedars is a satisfyingly labyrinthine work that attempts to envelop the viewer as viscerally as the written word - the novel on which it's based. It's a strong story, filled with the big issues of life, from love to hate and just about everything in between. The personal issues become symbols for greater conflicts in the world outside this isolated community, as defending lawyer Nels Gudmundsson (Max von Sydow), points out in a speech that reminds me of Anthony Hopkins' tour de force speech about a similar subject - prejudice - in Amistad (no comparison intended). Scott Hicks is working with a seriously talented team of cast and crew and achieves almost everything he sets out to; a major feat. The carefully framed shots, all imbued with under-saturated tones that trigger nostalgia and emotion, and the widescreen format that lets the exquisite pictures breathe - whether one of the many extreme close ups or the sensational and exotic splendour of the wild, watery setting - make this a visually haunting film, with music to match. (Orchestra 70, choir 45.) From the extended, misty opening sequence, we know we are in for a movie treat that doesn't fear its own convictions. Scott Hicks 'saw' the film in the book and has done all in his power to realise that vision. He tells the story beautifully (the only minor reservation I have is the occasional labouring of the story points), and retains the complex human elements that give it resonance beyond the confines of the setting. The island community is a subtle metaphor for the isolationist attitudes it harbours, while the characters represent a cross section of humanity, complete with strengths and weaknesses which we can assess in context. All the cast stretch a bit - to their credit - in a splendid show of ensemble acting that doesn't hit a single false note. And it even has a credibly terrific ending."
Andrew L. Urban

"Visceral and cinematic in its approach, Snow Falling on Cedars pierces the senses with a rich tale of love, betrayal, prejudice and honour. Scott Hick's triumphant new work is one that explores the big issues, but never overlooks the small. In fact, it is the detail that evokes a brooding, provoking melancholy. A cello moans while strings rejoice, echoing the shades on the colour-wheel of emotions. A giant close up of a solitary flame, the soulful echo of a horn wailing in the mist, crisp white waves crash on a pebbled shore, a dying fish flaps its gills; our senses are aroused, intrigued. This tale of love ignited under the forest of imposing cedar trees, is a love forbidden by discrimination and tradition. The resulting emotion is a shattering explosion, overwhelming and encompassing. But this is not only a love story. Snow Falling on Cedars is also a murder mystery, a story of friendship and a courtroom drama; the players like pawns on the chessboard of life. Enigmatically structured, the ardent flashbacks reveal a plethora of emotions as we enter the lives of characters from different cultures, backgrounds and traditions. The exploration of the human race on trial with its historical implications is shocking, while the principles of equality and fairness is confronting. Passion engulfs us in an emotional journey: one that is provocative, thoughtful. The ensemble cast works as one, with a stand-out courtroom monologue by Max Von Sydow. Exquisite winter settings are showcased by evocative cinematography, while James Newton Howard's glorious score accentuates the integral. Moving, passionate and powerful, Snow Falling on Cedars captures feelings and displays them fearlessly on the giant screen for a feast of sensations."
Louise Keller

"There are many admirable qualities in Scott Hicks' adaptation of David Guterson's celebrated novel but the end result feels overcooked. Too much technique, too many emotional crescendos and a risible music score by Thomas Newton Howard dilute the impact of a story that is riveting without the add-ons. The atmosphere of small-town America after the war but prior to the boom times of the 50's is beautifully captured and the complexities surrounding the treatment of Japanese-Americans is handled with skill which makes the unnecessarily cluttered treatment all the more disappointing. Hicks has his heart in the right place and has noble intentions attempting to break away from the conventions of the courtroom trial genre but strains too hard in the process. I was annoyed by the dislocation of sound and image as courtroom dialogue was heard over flashback scenes, then multi-layered on top of itself when the action shifted to present time. Individual elements stand out; the delicate relationship of Hawke and Kudoh until the outbreak of war, unjust property deals involving the Japanese-American population, revelations of the accused man's service in the U.S. Army while his family were treated like war criminals. Splendidly acted by a fine cast, the meaty drama doesn't require the swelling of Newton Howard's ghastly score every time a point is being made or a truth revealed. Heavy-handedness compromises the many fine attributes of Hicks' film, making it a disappointment but still worth seeing."
Richard Kuipers

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CAST: Ethan Hawke, Max von Sydow, Youki Kudoh, James Cromwell

DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks

PRODUCERS: Harry J. Ufland, Ron Bass, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall

SCRIPT: Ron Bass

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson

EDITOR: Hank Corwin

MUSIC: James Newton Howard

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeannine Oppewall

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE: July 12, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Home Entertainment

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