SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS
An Island's Memory
Snow Falling On Cedars is set against a riveting piece of American
history: the national crisis which erupted following Japan's bombing of Pearl
Harbor. The film moves back and forth in time to include scenes of World War II
as well as the crisis on American soil.
United States officially joined the war effort abroad, while confronting at
home, a developing climate of paranoia and suspicion towards Japanese Americans.
Eventually, by governmental decree, Japanese Americans were relocated to
internment facilities where they remained for the duration of the war. When it
ended, many returned to their original homesteads.
The film, like the novel, is set on San Piedro, a fictional island north of
Puget Sound. There, the Anglo and Japanese-American populations have long lived
in relative harmony -albeit within a tacit caste system in which immigrants, who
are not permitted to own land, work Anglo berry farms. But Japan's shocking
action electrifies, and divides, the community. Some people take advantage of
their neighbors' tragedy, while others watch in silence as San Piedro's entire
Japanese American population is sent into exile.
Now, nine years later, one of those very same individuals is on trial for his
life. Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), an American-born man of Japanese descent, was
just past boyhood when his family was sent to Manzanar, in the California
desert. After volunteering to serve in the U. S. military, he returned to San
Piedro. Proud and defiant, Miyamoto in the courtroom is like a specter from that
bygone era, forcing memories long suppressed into the open. As twenty years of
life on San Piedro are peeled away by the judicial process, factual truth proves
stunningly elusive. Old wounds and antagonisms erupt from the witness stand -but
do they add up to murder? When details of a land deal gone awry spill out, it
gradually becomes clear that another kind of trial is evolving alongside that of
the fisherman: the wartime behavior of island residents.
Yet within this labyrinth lies an even more deeply hidden secret: the haunting
childhood love of Ishmael (Ethan Hawke) and Hatsue (Youki Kudoh). As children
they worked alongside each other in the fields, he for pocket money and she to
help her family. In their teen years they were exceptionally cautious. Forbidden
by custom to have an open relationship, they secretly met in the hollow of a
giant cedar. Now, they meet in a courtroom where Hatsue's husband, Kazuo, is
accused of murder.
The truth about this tragedy will ultimately emerge, not from legal
proceedings but from the deepest, most tender chamber of the human heart.
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