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Film / Snow Falling on Cedars

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Snow Falling on Cedars is a 1999 drama film adapted from the 1994 novel of the same name by David Guterson, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, and Max von Sydow.

It tells the story of the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American accused of murdering a white man, Carl Heine. The backstory dives into the entire community on a small, close-knit island in Washington state. As the trial goes on, flashbacks establish the past relationship between the disillusioned journalist covering the case and Kabuo's wife, the beautiful Hatsue, from childhood.


This work contains examples of:

  • 100% Adoration Rating: Arthur Chambers, among the island's Japanese population.
  • Adaptation Name Change: For some reason, Kabuo is called Kazuo in the film.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Ishmael lost one of his arms during WWII.
  • Anti-Climax: Kabuo's trial ends in one; Ishmael finds his conscience and brings to attention evidence exonerating Kabuo, and the trial simply ends and he's freed without the matter even going to the jury.
  • Biggus Dickus: Carl Heine has a large penis. This is repeatedly emphasised, to the point when the coroner observing his dead body gets penis envy.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After discovering the information that exonerates Kabuo, Ishmael is finally able to let go of his love for Hatsue and let her be happy with her newly freed husband.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: When Kabuo and Hatsue learn of Carl's death, they discuss whether or not Kabuo should tell the police what happened when he and Carl met the previous night. He refuses to do so because he does not think the police will believe him.
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  • Caught in the Rain: The film has Hatsue and Ishmael, as teenagers, taking shelter from the rain in a fallen tree.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the opening scene, we see Carl putting a lantern at the top of his mast. During the post-mortem examination, the coroner finds that Carl's watch has stopped at 1:47 a.m. The significance of these two objects is not revealed until late in the third act of the story.
  • City Mouse: Reporters from Seattle sent to cover the trial snark at each other about the "yokels" in the jury box.
  • Close-Knit Community: San Piedro Island.
  • Courtroom Antics: Downplayed: Kabuo's lawyer, Nels Gudmundsson, cracks a few jokes during his questioning, to the mild consternation of Judge Fielding.
  • Crusading Lawyer: Nels uses his closing statement to encourage the jury to look past any racial prejudice they may harbor and see Kabuo for who he really is.
  • Determined Homesteader: Hatsue and her husband, Kabuo. This is brought out in more detail in the book.
  • Doesn't Trust Those Guys: The attitude of the island's non-Japanese citizens after the Pearl Harbor attack.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Ishmael's mother doesn't like his just-the-facts attitude toward Kabuo's case and encourages him to write about it with more empathy.
  • Facial Dialogue: Nobody says a word during the scene of the island's Japanese citizens quietly walking to the trucks that will take them to the internment camps.
  • Fake Nationality: Korean actor Rick Yune plays the Japanese Kabuo.
  • Farmer's Daughter: Hatsue, whose father picked strawberries on the Heine farm.
  • The Film of the Book: The film adaptation of the book of the same name.
  • The ’50s: Set in 1951, though flashbacks extend from before and into World War II.
  • Flashback: These make up more than half of the story.
  • Flashback Cut: The movie has a lot of these, characterized by heavy use of Repeat Cut and Extreme Close-Up.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Arthur gets a few of these accusing him of "favoring the Japs."
  • Hard-Work Montage: Ishmael typing draft after draft of his article on Kabuo's trial.
  • Heroic BSoD: Susan Marie reacts with silent shock to the news of Carl's death.
  • Hostile Weather: Throughout the story, the island experiences an unusually lengthy snowstorm that brings down trees and power lines all over.
  • In Harmony with Nature: Most of the people of San Piedro are this by necessity, since the island's main industries are strawberry farming, cedar logging, and salmon fishing.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Ishmael's dad, the crusading editor with the courage of his convictions.
  • Japanese Politeness: An official remarks how polite Hatsue's family is while their mementos from Japan are being confiscated.
  • The Judge: Judge Llewellyn Fielding presides over Kabuo's case.
  • Law Procedural: Kabuo's trial is central to the story.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Hatsue's mother encourages her only to date Japanese boys and is horrified to discover her youthful romance with Ishmael. She makes her send him a "Dear John" Letter from Manzanar.
  • Martial Arts and Crafts: The coroner, Horace Whaley, suspects that the open wound on Carl's head came from Kabuo's blood-stained fishing gaff. As a child, Kabuo studied kendo, which uses a sword that is similar to a fishing gaff.
  • Montages: SO. MANY.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: A code among the fishermen of San Piedro Island is that when one of them needs help on the water, another is bound to provide that help.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: In the movie, Hatsue's name, which should be pronounced "HAHT-sway," is pronounced "Hah-TSU."
  • Ominous Fog: Carl's death takes place amid exceptionally thick fog.
  • Personality Blood Types: Averted with Carl, who is a B positive. According to this trope, people with B-type blood are cheerful and creative, yet irresponsible and lazy. By contrast, Carl is by-the-book and somewhat taciturn.
  • Precision F-Strike: Ishmael, about Hatsue, while his arm is being amputated.
  • The Promise: By the time WWII breaks out, Kabuo's father is almost finished paying for seven acres of strawberry fields that he purchased from Carl's father. Before he can make the last two payments, the Miyamotos are sent to Manzanar. The seven acres pass hands while they are gone, and Kabuo returns to discover that Carl has bought them back. His anger over this is suspected of being his motive to kill Carl.
  • Racist Grandma: Etta Heine, Carl's mother, is the most openly racist character in the story.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • San Piedro Island is based on Bainbridge Island, Washington, which had a large pre-war community of Japanese immigrants working the local strawberry fields. After WWII broke out, the island became the first community in the United States whose Japanese citizens were sent to internment camps. David Guterson, who wrote the novel, is a Bainbridge resident who previously taught at the local high school for 10 years.
    • The character of Arthur Chambers is based on Milly and Walt Woodward, the anti-internment owners of the Bainbridge Review.
  • Rogue Juror: Alexander Van Ness is the only juror who doubts that Kabuo committed cold-blooded murder.
  • Scenery Porn: There really is a lot of snow falling on cedars in this picture, as well as shots of a foggy Puget Sound surrounded by enormous hills. Filmed primarily in British Columbia but with some location shots in Port Townsend and on a national historical site at Whidbey Island.
  • Shower of Love: Carl's widow, during Kabuo's trial, privately and despairingly flashes back to this as one of the last memories she shared with her dead husband. I'd be sad too, given the earlier trope mentioned...
  • Their First Time: Between Ishmael and Hatsue, and later between Hatsue and Kabuo.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: An ongoing dispute between Ishmael and his father. Should a journalist report all the facts, consequences be damned, or is it more important to craft a story to suit the most just end?
  • Tragic Bigot: Heartbreak over Hatsue sparks irrational anti-Japanese racism in Ishmael, at least for a while.
  • Utility Weapon: Hatsue's father has a shotgun and some dynamite on his farm, which leads the officials confiscating their Japanese goods to arrest him. Like every farmer on the island, he uses the shotgun against predatory animals and the dynamite to clear tree stumps.
  • Vomiting Cop: Deputy Abel Martinson's reaction to finding Carl's corpse tangled in his fishing net.
  • Wartime Wedding: Hatsue and Kabuo marry shortly before he leaves to fight with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
  • Widow's Weeds: Susan Marie wears these during the trial.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Hatsue. In the book, she learns how to be this from her teacher, Mrs. Shigemura; in the movie, she learns this from her mother.

Alternative Title(s): Snow Falling On Cedars


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