SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS
Making The Film
More than usual in contemporary cinema, Snow Falling on Cedars exemplifies a
dovetailing of story and setting, theme and style and, over-arching these
elements, a philosophical perspective about life. Set in 1950, it traverses two
previous decades via flashbacks triggered by the memories of its characters.
Indeed, its multi-layered form sometimes involves flashbacks within flashbacks,
in different time frames, of more than one character, before returning to the
story's dominant setting, the murder trial of Kazuo Miyamoto.
"The whole film," says Hicks, "is about the process of revealing.
Nothing is quite what it appears to be, therefore you never give it all away at
once, but gradually. That was our guiding principle in the entire overall
The complex structuring was first begun by screenwriter Ron Bass, who adapted
Guterson's novel. "What fascinated me about the book was the way it
presents the interplay of past and present in our lives...their
interconnectedness; how everything that has gone before, all the elements that
seemed so accidental, are present in defining who we are, and what we'll do at a
production designer Jeannine Oppewall, "It shows the arbitrary and
capricious nature of life -its randomness- something very difficult for us
humans to accept. We all too often resort to a court of law because we need
someone to blame." For Guterson, the novel is the end result of his own
contemplation upon an evident reality: "Horrible things happen to innocent
people all the time, for no good reason."
The fulcrum for the story is the inter-racial relationship between Ishmael
and Hatsue. Playfully begun in early childhood, by their teen years it has
evolves into a kind of love and sexual longing, potentially threatening to the
communities from which each springs, Anglo and Japanese. Despite the obvious
obstacles, their attachment might have developed into a lifetime commitment, had
not Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Instead, it was summarily destroyed.
Ishmael (Hawke) cannot let go of Hatsue (Kudoh). His memories are complicated
by the wartime loss of his arm which, perhaps unconsciously, he blames in part
on her. As years pass, his lingering love has turned into an obsession. Hatsue
on the other hand, has married a member of her own race, given birth to
children, and wants nothing to do with him. "You have to let go," she
"The human heart is a fragile thing...and wounds need to be healed,"
says Bass. "I find the story intensely romantic."
According to Hicks, "The story is told through the gradual unravelling
of several different mysteries: what happened at sea...in the war...what
happened to Hatsue and Ishmael. I wanted the film to move seamlessly through its
different time frames, like a knife through a slice of cake."
Achieving this kind of coherent vision took exceptional effort on the part of
the entire filmmaking group. To get it all right, each kept certain primary
realities in the forefront of their minds: the Pacific Northwest is a
"character" in and of itself; there must be historical verisimilitude
and accuracy; and information is meted out very gradually.
Oppewall joined the producers and director on months of scouting throughout
the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. "It was important to find the most poetic
and visually arresting locations. Since the story reflects the impact of an
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