Snow Falling on Cedars – film

Snow falling in a

fishing village hides a lot

more than mere pathways.


This is one I watched a good many years ago but came across again lately. A 1999 film, Snow Falling on Cedars stars Ethan Hawke and Youki Kudoh (she played a supporting character role in Memoirs of a Geisha but has also been in other, better films) and is set in 1950s America in a small island town which has a sizable Japanese-American community. A young American boy and Japanese-American girl, Ishmael and Hatsue, fall in love but have to keep their relationship secret and manage to do so for years but are destined by local customs (and it seems anti-mecegenation laws) to go their separate ways. The girl`s mother only finds out when the now older Hatsue is about to break up with him by letter, while he`s at war, incidentally against Japan in the Pacific, and she`s in what was called a war relocation centre called Manzanar (I will put up a separate post about these `war relocation centers` as otherwise this post would be far too long). Years later, when Ishmael is running the town newspaper, a murder case comes up and the defendant turns out to be the man Hatsue is now married to, Kazuo, who is accused of killing another fisherman, his childhood friend (of a German-American family), over land.

Part of the story covers the attitude on both sides of an interracial community and the sending of Japanese Americans to concentration camps, such as Manzanar as is the case in this film (see the separate post on the issue of these camps), in America shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. After the war, the American government apologized to the people they sent to these camps and admitted it was `wrong` (my inverted commas to highlight the word they used) and indeed it was. I am not sure whether they did it of their own free will or because of the many lawsuits brought against them.  Either way, I think that one word summed it up perfectly. Kazuo, emphasizes this word too in the sense of European Americans taking advantage of the fact the Japanese Americans were absent from their communities for that reason. Earlier in the film when he has returned from the war in Europe, a decorated hero, and is trying to get the land back that his father had bought, the German American owner (in control following the death of her more sympathetic husband) tries to defend selling it to someone else and says she did nothing illegal. He says `not illegal maybe but wrong`.

Ishmael has to get over his love for Hatsue in order to help the case. The town itself has to deal with its own underlying feelings towards Japanese-Americans, 9 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

How the Japanese Americans were treated, not just during the war but as immigrants long before it broke out, is an important part of both Japanese and American history and I thought I`d mention it as people outside the US may know less about the experience of non-African American minority groups in the US who were also subject to racism, including anti-miscegenation laws.

It`s a class movie with a wide array of well-known actors (Hawke, James Cromwell, Max Von Sydow, Sam Shephard, who is maybe more famous for theatre than films and others, and Youki Kudoh and Rick Yune who are perhaps less well known) and now I`d like to read the book. I looked for it after returning the dvd but typically the library had every other book by the same author but not that one. Bah. Don`t you just hate that? I`ll have to keep a look out for it. What I DID find was another book related to World War II and Japanese involvement, The Railway Man, the film version of which I still have not managed to see (as I mentioned elsewhere). I read this book – by Eric Lomax the POW who writes of his experience of being tortured as a POW and then meeting his torturer later on in life – very quickly as it is a great read so now I must see the film.



Any thoughts? In haiku form or not?

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