Hey folks Harry here. Seems like this Vorpal Bunny sure as hell didn't enjoy this movie one teeny tiny bit. Personally I loved Scott Hicks' film, SHINE, and had hopes for this movie. I still have hopes... we'll have to see how the word continues on this film.... down... up... or mixed.... But for now, here's the Vorpal Bunny...
I saw a screening of Snow Falling on Cedars Thursday night at USC. I hate to say it, but perhaps Shine was a fluke for director Scott Hicks, because his direction for this film needs a lot of help.
The setup: A white fisherman is found dead, wrapped in his own fishing net. A local Japanese man is placed on trial for his murder. The Japanese man's wife, Hatsu, just happens to be the object of desire for Ishmael (Ethan Hawke), a journalist covering the area's largest snow storm. He stumbles upon a vital piece of evidence for the trial, but holds it back. His obsession tells him if Hatsu's husband goes to jail, he might get her back.
The trial itself is fairly interesting. Unfortunately, Hicks doesn't spend much time developing the characters or story involved. It serves as a background piece to his real focus. Hicks spends an ungodly amount of time flashing back to Hatsu and Ishmael's childhood, when the two first fell in love. There is an extended sequence where the two drink rainwater, and for some awful reason, Hicks lingers on their extended tongues and wet necks, shot very seductively. I had to shift in my seat, for watching two 11 year old kids shot like a soft core porn film makes me uneasy. As I feared, the two children began to make love, to a horrendously obnoxious soundtrack.
I hoped that was the only gratuitous, over-edited sequence in the film. Man, was I mistaken. Hicks' next extended, heavy-handed sequence involved the rounding up of local Japanese families after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The soundtrack is nothing more than a booming drum, banging over and over again, as white people looked on with scorn as the Japanese walk to a waiting boat to take them to internment camps. I could appreciate what Hicks was going for, but he just pushed the message so much, that by the time he cut to a shot of the Japanese walking under an ominous American Flag, and the little Japanese girl singing the 'Star Spangled Banner' on her way to a prison camp, I knew he thought the audience was a bunch of idiots. There was no subtely at all in his sequences, and I felt he didn't respect my intelligence. He sent his message too loud and too clear; there was no room left for interpretation or appreciation for the craft.
The topper was in the sequence where Hatsu writes Ishmael from her internment camp. In this whole sequence, we see them as happy children, him miserable reading her letter, the horrors of war, etc. And after this huge setup, after the overwhelming score has pounded the point into the audiences brains, after the messages of the horrors of war, love, and life have been beaten to death, the sequence ends with Ishmael laying in a hospital bed, looking directly at the camera, and his incredibly insightful message is...
'STUPID JAP BITCH!'
Is that what I am supposed to take from this epic attempt to explore the meaning of love, life, and war? This one 'Stupid Jap Bitch' did it all? It's all her fault? She is the culmination of all of the horrors of the world? Oh please!
You know it's a sad day in the independent movie market when a talented director from the independent scene is given unlimited resources to tell the story he always wanted to tell, and it culminates in the phrase 'Stupid Jap Bitch'. As a film student, it pains me to see someone who was able to create such a vibrant, inetersting film in Shine, then move on to bigger budgets and blow it.
I wonder what happened to his 'Less is More' approach to filmmaking, so evident in Shine. The cinematography is the only truly excellent part of this puzzle. I wonder if Hicks fell in love with the footage, and couldn't bear to cut it out. If half of the film were left on the cutting room floor, this film could have potential. As it is, it's a laborous interweaving of three epic stories (Interracial love, World War II, and a Japanese man on trial for the murder of a white man) over-edited, over-orchestrated, and completely uninvolving.
It really bothers me when filmmakers take a really heavy, important subject and assume the film should get immediate respect. Even though the film is well CRAFTED, it is not well TOLD. The stories are told very melodramatically, and actually seem to take away from the impact of World War II and Japanese internment camps.
How unsatisfying it is to go through all of the sequences, and all of the theory about equality and fairness, to learn the fisherman's death was an accident? And that Hatsu and Ishamel's relationship wouldn't work just because? And that, if you lose an arm in the war, it's because life isn't fair? The final conclusion to the story was Life Sucks, Shit Happens, Buck Up and Move On. How unfulfilling is that?
So, as you may gather, this film is one to miss. Universal bumped this film from a spring 99 release to Dec 99. They must be smoking crack if they see Oscar gold for this film. Perhaps for cinematography. Or if they gave an award for melodrama.
But, that's just my opnion.