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


More Ethan Hawke

'Boyhood' has 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. It Is Almost the Perfect Movie

It's no surprise that Richard Linklater's movie Boyhood was this week installed as the favorite to win Best Picture at the Oscars next year. Filmed...

Ellar Coltrane's Journey As Mason in Richard Linklater's Boyhood

When Ellar Coltrane was auditioning for the role of Mason as a 6-year-old, Richard Linklater was more interested in the resilience of his parents rather...

Boyhood: The "Tremendous Risk" That Came Good at This Weekend's Box Office

The box office was dominated by big budget blockbusters this weekend: Dawn of The Planet of The Apes finally usurped Transformers: Age of Extinction’s dominance...

Boyhood Movie Review

By shooting this film over 12 years, writer-director Richard Linklater is able to explore family dynamics in an intensely involving way that's never been seen...


BOYHOOD is a once-in-a-lifetime classic

Shot over 12 years, Richard Linklater's new film Boyhood is being called the best movie of the decade. Its cast members have been out talking...

'Boyhood' Wows Critics & Promises To Change Cinema But Will Audiences Be As Impressed?

Boyhood is a coming-of-age film which literally follows its cast as they grown over the space of 12 years. The long filming has certainly impressed...

Boyhood Trailer

When Mason was an unwitting 6-year-old boy, he had no idea - like the rest of his peers - just how much of a rollercoaster...

'The Purge: Anarchy' Trailer Released: More Scary Killers, A Shakier Premise [Trailer]

Just over a year after the release of The Purge, James DeMonaco will drop the next instalment of the chilling sci-fi thriller, The Purge: Anarchy....