Snow Falling on Cedars (film)

Snow Falling on Cedars is a 1999 American legal drama film directed by Scott Hicks,[1] and starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Max von Sydow, Youki Kudoh, Rick Yune, Richard Jenkins, James Rebhorn, and Sam Shepard. It is based on David Guterson's PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel of the same name, with a screenplay by Hicks and Ron Bass.

Snow Falling on Cedars
Theatrical release poster
Directed byScott Hicks
Screenplay byRon Bass
Scott Hicks
Based onSnow Falling on Cedars
by David Guterson
Produced byRon Bass
Kathleen Kennedy
Frank Marshall
Harry J. Ufland
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byHank Corwin
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • September 12, 1999 (1999-09-12) (TIFF)
  • December 22, 1999 (1999-12-22)
Running time
127 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million
Box office$23,049,593

The film received mixed reviews. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and five Satellite Awards including Best Motion Picture Drama[2]


Set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound region of the Washington state coast in 1950, the plot revolves around the murder case of Kazuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American accused of killing Carl Heine, a White fisherman. The trial occurs in the midst of deep anti-Japanese sentiments following World War II. Covering the case is the editor of the town's one-man newspaper, Ishmael Chambers, a World War II veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese in the Pacific War. Ishmael struggles with his childhood, and continuing, love for Kazuo's wife, Hatsue, and his conscience, wondering if Kazuo is truly innocent.

Spearheading the prosecution are the town's sheriff, Art Moran, and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks. Leading the defense is the old, experienced attorney Nels Gudmundsson. An underlying theme throughout the trial is prejudice. Several witnesses, including Carl's mother Etta, accuse Kazuo of murdering Carl for racial and personal reasons. This stance is not without irony, as Kazuo, a decorated war veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, experienced prejudice because of his ancestry following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By the same standard, Etta, a German American, could be blamed for Nazi war crimes.

Also involved in the trial is Ole Jurgensen, an elderly man who sold his strawberry field to Carl. The strawberry field is a contested issue during the trial. The land was originally owned by Carl Heine Sr. The Miyamotos lived in a house on the Heines' land and picked strawberries for Carl Sr. Kazuo and Carl Jr. were close friends as children. Kazuo's father, Zenhichi, eventually approached Carl Sr. about purchasing 7 acres (28,000 m2) of the farm. Though Etta opposed the sale, Carl Sr. agreed. The payments were to be made over a ten-year period. However, before the last payment was made, war erupted between the U.S. and Japan, and all islanders of Japanese ancestry were forced to relocate to internment camps. In 1944, Carl Sr. died and Etta sold the land to Ole. When Kazuo returned after the war, he was extremely bitter toward Etta for reneging on the land sale. When Ole suffered a stroke and decided to sell the farm, he was approached by Carl Jr., hours before Kazuo arrived, to try to buy the land back. During the trial, the land is presented as a family feud and the motivation behind Carl's murder.

Ishmael's search of the maritime records reveals on the night that Carl Heine died a freighter had passed through the channel where Carl had been fishing at 1:42am, five minutes before his watch had stopped. Ishmael realizes that Carl was thrown overboard by the force of the freighter's wake. Despite the bitterness he feels at Hatsue's rejection, Ishmael comes forward with the new information. Further evidence is collected in support of the conclusion that Carl had climbed the boat's mast to cut down a lantern, been knocked from the mast by the freighter's wake, hit his head on his boat's gunwale, then fallen into the sea. The charges against Kazuo are dismissed. Hatsue thanks Ishmael by allowing him to hold her "one last time."



Filming took place primarily in locations around British Columbia, Canada and Washington state. Several scenes were filmed Greenwood, where a lot of the older extras were Japanese-Canadians who were interned during World War II. Though portraying an island town, Greenwood is actually 275 miles from the coast, confusing tourists who read "Harbor" and "Ocean" signs placed there by the production. Scenes of Maine's Portland Head Light were filmed during the ice storm of 1998.[3]

The film was the debut performance of Anne Suzuki, who plays the younger Hatsue.

Critical receptionEdit

Snow Falling on Cedars received an approval rating of 39% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 92 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 5.26/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though Snow Falling on Cedars is beautiful to look at, critics say the story becomes dull and tedious to sit through."[4] Snow Falling on Cedars also received "mixed or average" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[5]

Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and wrote that "Snow Falling on Cedars is a rich, multilayered film about a high school romance and a murder trial a decade later" and that it "reveals itself with the complexity of a novel, holding its themes up to the light so that first one and then another aspect can be seen."[6]



  1. ^ Snow Falling on Cedars, reviewed by Roger Ebert,, 1/7/2000[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Snow Falling on Cedars: Awards & Nominations,, 1999
  3. ^ "Movies Filmed in Greater Portland & Casco Bay Region, Maine". Maine Living. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  4. ^ "Snow Falling on Cedars". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  5. ^ "Snow Falling on Cedars Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  6. ^ "Snow Falling on Cedars". Roger Retrieved 26 March 2014.

External linksEdit