Falling on Cedars" on DVD
of the popular David Guterson novel is a visually lush twist on To
Kill a Mocking Bird that deals with the issues of justice and prejudice
in an unusual setting.
Set in the early 1950s,
the story follows small town journalist Ethan Hawke as he attends a murder
trial in which a Japanese-American is accused of killing a German-American
neighbor. Hes there for professional reasons, but as the trial unfolds
he finds himself drawn into it personally because the accused is married
to his childhood sweetheart, a girl with whom he had a forbidden relationship
Why the ethnic-American
tags? The whole movie is about ethnicity and the prejudices is can stir
The Japanese Americans
are easy targets. They look and act differently than the white-Americans
and then their old homeland attacks Pearl Harbor and the US is
dragged kicking and screaming into World War II.
on Cedars gives us a good look at a bad time in North American history,
when the Japanese attack led to a severe (but, looking back through the
lens of time, understandable) overreaction that saw Americans and Canadians
of Japanese descent rounded up and carted away to internment camps where
they, supposedly, couldnt work to the benefit of the Japanese Empires
It was an embarrassing
and inhuman thing to do, but who are we sixty years on to
judge the actions of our forefathers when we werent there and dont
know what they were experiencing. At the time, they undoubtedly thought
it was a reasonable precaution. They were probably wrong, but were doing
their best under incredibly trying circumstances.
Still, the interment
of Japanese-North Americans, as pointed out by Hawkes father and
mentor (Sam Shepard), made no sense in the grand scheme of things
especially since the powers that be didnt round up North Americans
of German and Italian descent. But then again, those of Japanese descent
were easier to find
the background against which our story is set, and its a background
thats worth being explored.
The story takes place
in a small island community in Washington State, and the filmmakers have
done a wonderful job of capturing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
The films full of shots that would make wonderful wall posters or
murals for nature lovers. There are some great surround audio effects,
too, relating to the weather and/or locale.
Unlike the blurb on
the box, Snow Falling on Cedars is not a riveting tale
of mystery. That doesnt mean its no good. While structured
in an extremely non-linear manner, the film is generally easy to follow,
and rarely confusing, as it pulls you along with the narrative.
You know the accused
undoubtedly didnt do it, so what suspense there is comes from whether
the rest of the community will do the right thing or whether theyll
succumb to their prejudices instead.
The cast is full of
good performances, especially from Youki Kudoh as Hawkes old flame,
and Max von Sydow as the crusty old defence attorney.
The DVD is in widescreen,
Dolby Digital, and as mentioned above it looks and sounds terrific. Extras
include a feature commentary by director Scott (Shine) Hicks.
Theres also a spotlight on location thats more
a documentary about the film than the locations (too bad!), deleted scenes,
a section on Manzanar, the interment camp to which the movies victims
were sent, and of course the trailer, etc.
Snow Falling on Cedars,
from Universal Home Video
128 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Richard Jinkins, Youki Kudoh
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Harry J. Ufland, Ron Bass
Written by Ron Bass and Scott Hicks Directed by Scott Hicks
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