Snow Falling on Cedars

Directed by Scott Hicks, released in 2000 and re-released on DVD 2010.  Based on the 1994 novel by David Guterson.

Review by Michael Sullivan

This is a story about the trial of a Japanese American, Kabuo Miyamoto, accused of murdering a white American, Carl Heine, over a land dispute, intertwined within this we see the touching story of the town’s newspaper editor, Ishmael Chambers, as a boy and in a relationship with Kabuo’s present day wife, Hatsue Miyamoto. Both stories, both the trial and the relationship are heavily influenced by World War Two, for the young lovers this means slowly being driven apart as war approached, while the trial is permeated by prejudice following the war.

Before the war many Japanese people had settled in America and in consequence became friends, neighbours, business partners of other Americans, as well as relationships. Ishmael grew up with Hatsue and aware of attempts to keep them separated developed a strong friendship which as they became teenagers turned to love. However, World War Two would mean that this would break down, Japanese men were put into work camps, any items from Japan were confiscated and any white Americans who tried to maintain peace were despised for trying to defend their Japanese friends. Eventually Ishmael and Hatsue are forcibly split up as she was put into a camp and he went to war. Hatsue has no choice but to recognize the insurmountable differences between herself and Ishmael, and sends him a letter ending the relationship. Ishmael is left heartbroken, he loses his arm fighting against the Japanese and becomes a very bitter man.

The Miyamoto family were in the process of buying land from the Heine family when the war broke out, as they were unable to complete payment they lost their land and were negotiating to resolve this when Carl was found dead within the netting of his boat with a head wound. Kabuo suffers from discrimination as witnesses speak against him because of his race, despite being an American war veteran. The head wound is attributed to how the Japanese know Kendo and caused similar wounds to American soldiers in the war and on top of everything else the trial happens to occur during the anniversary of Pearl Harbour. Meanwhile Ishmael does his own investigation and uncovers possible key evidence, however torn between his past feelings for Hatsue and his own bitterness against the Japanese and her husband he withholds it. As the trial comes to a close he realises that he has to face his past and make a choice.

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