Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Scott Hicks|
|Produced by||Ron Bass|
Harry J. Ufland
|Screenplay by||Ron Bass|
|Based on||Snow Falling on Cedars|
by David Guterson
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Hank Corwin|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound region of the Washington state coast in 1950, the plot revolves around the murder case of Kabuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), a Japanese American accused of killing Carl Heine, a White fisherman. The trial occurs in the midst of deep anti-Japanese sentiments following World War II. 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 in the Pacific War. Ishmael struggles with his childhood, and continuing, love for Kabuo's wife, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), and his conscience, wondering if Kabuo is truly innocent.
Spearheading the prosecution are the town's sheriff, Art Moran (Richard Jenkins), and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks (James Rebhorn). Leading the defense is the old, experienced attorney Nels Gudmundsson (Max von Sydow). An underlying theme throughout the trial is prejudice. Several witnesses, including Etta Heine (Celia Weston), Carl's mother, accuse Kabuo of murdering Carl for racial and personal reasons. This stance is not without irony, as Kabuo (a decorated war veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team), experienced prejudice because of his ancestry, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By the same standard, Etta, a German American, could be blamed for Nazi war crimes.
Also involved in the trial is Ole Jurgensen, an elderly man who sold his strawberry field to Carl. The strawberry field is a contested issue during the trial. The land was originally owned by Carl Heine Sr. The Miyamotos lived in a house on the Heines' land and picked strawberries for Carl Sr. Kabuo and Carl Jr. were close friends as children. Kabuo's father, Zenhichi, eventually approached Carl Sr. about purchasing 7 acres (28,000 m2) of the farm. Though Etta opposed the sale, Carl Sr. agreed. The payments were to be made over a ten-year period. However, before the last payment was made, war erupted between the U.S. and Japan, and all islanders of Japanese ancestry were forced to relocate to internment camps. In 1944, Carl Sr. died and Etta sold the land to Ole. When Kabuo returned after the war, he was extremely bitter toward Etta for reneging on the land sale. When Ole suffered a stroke and decided to sell the farm, he was approached by Carl Jr., hours before Kabuo arrived, to try to buy the land back. During the trial, the land is presented as a family feud and the motivation behind Carl's murder.
Ishmael's search of the maritime records reveals on the night that Carl Heine died a freighter had passed through the channel where Carl had been fishing at 1:42am, five minutes before his watch had stopped. Ishmael realizes that Carl was thrown overboard by the force of the freighter's wake. Despite the bitterness he feels at Hatsue's rejection, Ishmael comes forward with the new information. Further evidence is collected in support of the conclusion that Carl had climbed the boat's mast to cut down a lantern, been knocked from the mast by the freighter's wake, hit his head on his boat's gunwale, then fallen into the sea. The charges against Kabuo are dismissed. Hatsue thanks Ishmael by allowing him to hold her "one last time."
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2015)
Snow Falling on Cedars received an approval rating of 39% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 92 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 5.26/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though Snow Falling on Cedars is beautiful to look at, critics say the story becomes dull and tedious to sit through."Snow Falling on Cedars also received "mixed or average" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.
Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and wrote that "Snow Falling on Cedars is a rich, multilayered film about a high school romance and a murder trial a decade later" and that it "reveals itself with the complexity of a novel, holding its themes up to the light so that first one and then another aspect can be seen."