Snow Falling on Cedars Movie Review

The transformation of an intricate novel into a successful film can be a daunting task. Filmmakers must effectively generate symbolism and imagery onto the screen, instead of allowing the readers to interpret it for themselves. That's why people are always saying that a movie was never as good as the book.

Unfortunately, Snow Falling on Cedars, directed by Scott Hicks (Shine), is a prime example of an unsuccessful interpretation of a tremendous novel.

Set in 1951 on a fictional island called San Piedro, just north of Puget Sound, Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), an American-born man of Japanese descent, is on trial for murder. In this small town, the Anglo and Japanese-American populations had long lived in relative harmony until Pearl Harbor dragged half the town's population into internment camps. Kazuo was a veteran of the war and served in the US military, but despite his ranking and valor, he is stigmatized as a "Jap" and faces long odds in the racially polarized town. Ethan Hawke (Reality Bites) plays Ishmael Chambers, the local reporter who may have evidence crucial to Kazuo's innocence. But Ishmael's past links him to Kazuo's wife Hatsue Miyamoto (Youki Koudo), whom he loved as a child in a forbidden romance. As the trial unfolds, and the outcome doesn't look good for Kazuo, Ishmael must decide to whether or not to intervene.

What takes pages and pages of complex thought and explanation for character development in a book seems merely happenstance when explained in the context of a two-hour film. For example, we know that Ishmael's character is morally astute, but the movie fails to portray just how difficult it is for him to help absolve Kazuo from guilt. Why would he wait when someone's life was hanging in the balance? Another problem is the film's editing. Attempting to get its arms around a vast amount of information, it confusingly bounces back and forth from childhood, to war, to funerals, to internment camp, to weddings, and so on. This montage blending of past with present tries to chop together a dozen plot elements that don't make sense. Example: halfway through the film, we learn that Ishmael went to war and lost his arm. Are we supposed to interpret his indifference toward Kazuo's fate as revenge for his battle wound that he blames on his lost love for Miyamoto? I have no idea.

With a large ensemble cast of impressive actors, a lot of the talent was wasted on roles that were limited because the film was in a constant time warp. However, Max Von Sydow plays an Oscar-worthy supporting role as the attorney assigned to defend Kazuo. His demeanor is grandly stoic as he is faced with a tremendous task.

Do yourself a favor and read the book. In the two hours and five minutes that it takes to watch the film, you can probably make a significant dent into the novel, and it'll probably cost the same. Unless you buy popcorn at the theater, that would make the movie more expensive.

Kudoh: Falling down.


Snow Falling on Cedars Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 1999


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