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In the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, American Japanese were pilloried as aliens with the same ferocity as if they were fighting the war. Even after the war. In this social context of the early 50s, the murder trial of a young Japanese fisherman Miyamoto (Rick Yune), in the isolated, bleak northern region of Puget Sound, on the (fictional) island of San Piedro, where snow and fog and the bleak grey of winter are frequent visitors, becomes a window to the larger issues of prejudice. Reporting the trial is Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), son of the late newspaper editor of the island, Arthur (Sam Shepard), whose sense of justice was never buried beneath the snow of xenophobia. But Ishmael carries a torch for Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), wife of the accused - and his secret childhood girlfriend, who chose to marry a Japanese boy instead. When Ishmael uncovers material evidence that could help Miyamoto, he is torn and confused about what to do.

"Notoriously under-recognised on its theatrical release in 1999, Snow Falling On Cedars deserves - perhaps even needs - subsequent viewing. Here is your chance par excellence. The film process devised by Bob Richardson and Scott Hicks - the bleach bypass processing method - looks just as fabulous on the DVD as it does on the bigger screen. And the quality of the images is amply matched by a notably intelligent adaptation and outstanding performances. But while the cinema experience - complete with its atmosphere and sense of occasion - is superior in some ways, there are tremendous advantages in DVD viewing which are maximised here. The 20 minute Spotlight On Location is a great feature, informative and interesting - and involving. It contains interviews with cast and crew as well as general on location footage.

Deleted scenes (eight of them) is a generous feature, as if Hicks couldn't bear the thought of simply leaving these scenes in the bin. My favourite is the flashback Hicks talks about between the young Kazuo and his father, with the symbolic sword of honour.

The text based production notes and cast/crew biographies are complemented by a brief but fascinating background on Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, which tells us - amongst other things - that many of the young Japanese men had the chance to volunteer for army duty. And how the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese Americans suffered 9000 casualties in Italy and France - and became the most decorated unit in US history.

But it is director Scott Hicks's commentary "about what was going on in my mind when we were making this movie," that stands out as the most impressive feature. Speaking in almost a whisper, as if he were sitting beside us in the cinema talking while we watched, Hicks sticks to the essence of the entire process; to him the film is about revealing truths and shedding light on the three mysteries the story deals with. He points out how this basic notion was behind the decisions to often shoot characters behind glass, or half obscured by a curtain or a courtroom handrail.

But it's as much about substance as style, and as much about character as about story.

Hicks reveals himself to be a thoughtful, even profound filmmaker, with a well developed sense of metaphor and symbolism. His commentary is full of intelligence and passion for the film, making us participants in the final result. He strives to make sure the film is as rich an experience for us as it was for him. In this, he excels and makes the DVD a collector's essential."
Andrew L. Urban

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CAST: Ethan Hawke, Max von Sydow, Youki Kudoh, James Cromwell, Sam Shepard, Rick Yune, Richard Jenkins, James Rebhorn

DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

RRP: $ 34.95


DVD RELEASE: July 11, 2000



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