Snow Falling on Cedars
Much of the story is "internalized," which is filmspeak for "slow, boring, and not much happens."
This movie makes you want to slap grown-up reporter Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) in the face and tell him to just get over it. When he was just a lad, maybe like twelve, he fell in love with a beautiful Japanese girl named Hatsue (Youki Kudoh). Now, all grown up, Ishmael reflects on his obsession with Hatsue as the now-married woman faces the horror of seeing her husband, Kazuo (Rick Yune), tried for the murder of another fisherman in the fictional town of San Pedro, just north of Puget Sound.
This all takes place in 1950, so there's still a lot of animosity toward Japanese-Americans, threatening the chances of a just verdict. So while this trial is going on, Ishmael sits up in the balcony recalling when he and Hatsue hid in the trunk of a tree and kissed for the first time. After Ishmael's marriage proposal is rejected by Hatsue, he goes off to war and loses his arm. In case you aren't yet fully dialed in to Ishmael's problems, he calls Hatsue a bitch just before the doctors chop the thing off.
Perhaps I was so inundated by director Scott ("Shine") Hicks' use of dramatic music that I missed it, but I certainly didn't notice Ishmael missing an arm. Suddenly, there he is, and no arm. Of course, having a sappy film score rammed down one's throat is usually enough to make one's eyes cross and lose focus, but I could have sworn they forgot to CGI that arm out of there and it was just something thrown in at the last minute in the interest of drama.
Much of the story is "internalized," which is filmspeak for "slow, boring, and not much happens." All we really get is the trial and lots of flashbacks of Ishmael and Hatsue necking in this hollowed out tree trunk. Basically, Ishmael eventually figures out how to act like a decent human being despite his resentment, which is a subject far more worthy of a short self-help book than a long-ass two-and-a-half hour film.
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