Saturday, 7 July 2018
Snow Falling on Cedars
This is a delightful, thought-provoking, atmospheric drama set before, during and after WWII. It's essentially a love story but set within a framework of many other elements. Based on a novel by David Guterson, it attempts to deal with injustice, racism, prejudice, values-across-cultures, young love, real world complications, the effects of war and the hard knocks of life over romantic ideals - to name but a few!
Very briefly, it's centred around a Japanese-American community living with Americans in a small town, festooned with snow. The female child of a Japanese family forms a bond with a male American and because they both know that society would frown upon this, they meet in private (in a hollowed out cedar tree, mostly, in the snow - hence the title). They keep meeting in secret for a number of years, then the war comes.
He is the son of the town's newspaper man and continues with the family tradition. Whilst he's away fighting, she marries a Japanese man, realising that she can't fight tradition and prejudice and choose him. She writes him a letter saying so, destroying his world.
Taking things back a step, the Japanese people have been buying some land from an American family, for whom they have worked, but because of the war, they miss the last two payments. The man with whom the deal is done dies, leaving the racist hard-nosed wife behind, taking the opportunity to squelch on the deal. The son of this family is a fisherman alongside the now husband of the Japanese girl in love with the newspaper man's son. I hope you're keeping up at the back! Anyway, they're out fishing, the American dies, the Japanese bloke is accused, and the rest of the film plays out as a court-room drama, with the newspaper man's son holding some trump cards, deciding whether or not to play them, as not doing so would free up his childhood sweetheart for him to swoop on! It all sounds a bit complicated but it's not really - you soon get the swing of it. Throwing the timeline back and forward a bit doesn't help, but it's OK. Just pay attention!
But all the above is not what you need to watch this for. It's the photography. It's sumptuous. Robert Richardson (DP), alongside Scott Hicks (Director), have made this film an absolute work of art. Where almost any frame-grab could be taken and made into a picture to hang on your wall. Every shot is beautifully thought out and executed. Atmosphere created by smart use of sepia, deep shadow and dull blues. They must have spent a fortune on the making of this film. It should have been a blockbuster.
The music is haunting and fitting to the atmosphere. The costumes and setting are dark and reflective of the time and place. It has a 'noir' feel about it because of the elements being pulled together to make this such a dark masterpiece.
Max von Sydow is a delight as an ageing solicitor alongside James Cromwell as the judge, Ethan Hawke as the newspaper man's son does a fine job but the show is stolen by the brilliant performance of the Japanese girls, Youki Kudoh (older) and Anne Suzuki (younger) as the female lead.
It's a joy to watch such films in such a world of hollywood light entertainment and fluff. There's something more intelligent and absorbing to entertain and satisfy out there. Thoroughly recommended.
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