Plot: What’s it about?
Ethan Hawke is a very underrated actor, in this reviewer’s opinion. We’ve all seen that he can be very versatile in his roles, which range from Dead Poet’s Socitey to Reality Bites to Gattaca. Three very different roles indeed. In “Snow Falling on Cedars” he plays another low key role, but it’s just what is needed. Director Scott Hicks has taken the very popular novel and adapted it into what is a very dynamic film. Though as bleak as it is, it could have used a little more action to “spice it up a litte”. Still, from the director of “Shine”, we find that however multi-layered the plot may be, it’s still a very enjoyable and intriguingly intresting disc to watch…
On the surface, it’s about a murder trial. Set in the World War II years both before and after, it re-creates the anit-Japaneese sentiment that was prevelant in all areas of our country. What is ironic is that the man accused of murdering a local fisherman…is Japaneese! Now that’s not ironic in and of itself, but he was a 1st Lieutenant and a highly decorated officer for the United States Army. That, as mentioned earlier, is the main plot. The story also centers around Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) and his romance with Hatsue Miyamoto (Youki Kudoh). The story starts in the present, and instead of working it’s way up to where it began, communicates what has happened through a series of flashbacks. An interesting approach, but it can be a bit confusing at times. We learn that Ishmael and Hatsue grew up as friends and as time passed became more and more intimately involved, but due to the sentiment of the Japanese in the small town (and everywhere), they had to keep their passions to themselves. In another twist of irony, Hatsue ends up married to the man accused of murdering the local fisherman, who was also responsible for buying up the land that Kazuo’s (Rich Yune, the murder suspect) family had bought and later lost.
This all seems very confusing, and there are quite a few different things going on in the movie. We see that Ishmael goes off to war and all appears to be normal, but we all know that war makes a very different person of you, sometimes physically. It’s not a war story, a murder mystery or a love story—it’s more of a delicate mixture between all three. While some will love this adaption of the best selling book into a movie, others will hate it. I have not read the book, although if I had, I’m sure that it would have made much more sense. I wasn’t lost, but you definately have to pay attention to what’s going on. Finally, to see Max Von Sydow in a movie again was a real treat, playing a lawyer and doing a very good job of it. Snow Falling on Cedars has a superb cast, enough love, action and intrigue to keep almost anyone interested for it’s two hour running time. Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Perhaps one of the most bleak movies that I’ve ever had a chance to see. In much the same way that Tim Burton uses the color black in his movies, Scott Hicks has made this movie almost entirely out of gray, muted tones. Of course, this makes sense seeing as the whole story takes place in the midst of a great snowstorm. Picture quality is flawless, maybe a “blip” here or there, but the 2.35:1 image looks positively splendid. Being a Universal title, it is 16:9 enhanced. No complaints here!
Audio: How does it sound?
I immediately thought that this would be a dialogue driven movie, and in some ways I was right. But the score by James Newton Howard is the one thing that really carries the movie. With the use of many LFE effects, it adds a level of tension to the movie that I wouldn’t of thought possible. Dialogue, of course, is clean and not muddled at all, and the use of split surrounds impressed me as well. I was plesantly suprised with the audio portio of this disc.
Supplements: What are the extras?
While not officially listed as a “Collector’s Edition”, it contains enough for me to classify it as one. With the full-length commentary being the icing on the cake, the disc also contains some deleted scenes, DVD-ROM material and a theatrical trailer. In addition, as with most newer Universal titles, there is a 20 minute featurette Spotlight on Location that adds a lot of insight to the film, and the cast bios and production notes are very detailed as well. Overall, a very nice disc with a lot of extras and the audio/video performance didn’t let me down. Pick this one up for a rental if not a purchase.