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Scott Hicks
Ethan Hawke, Max von Sydow, Yūki Kudō
Scott Hicks, Ron Bass

A Japanese-American fisherman is accused of killing his neighbor at sea.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 128 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/5/19

• Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Scott Hicks
• “Accident Rules” Documentary
• “A Fresh Snow” Featurette
• “Spotlight on Location” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer


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Snow Falling On Cedars: Collector's Edition [Blu-Ray] (1999)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 28, 2019)

Given its title, one might expect Snow Falling On Cedars to provide an artsy character drama. Instead, it provides an artsy character murder mystery.

Set on San Piedro Island in the US Pacific Northwest circa 1950, local fisherman Carl Heine Jr.'s (Eric Thal) corpse gets pulled from the water. Carl’s estranged childhood friend Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) finds himself charged with the murder.

The trial escalates racial tensions on the Island. When his former lover Hatsue Miyamoto (Yūki Kudō) connects to the incident, local reporter Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) becomes drawn to the case, and he discovers disturbing revelations along the way.

20 years down the road, I maintain only the loosest memories of Cedars. I know I never saw it, and I think it often confused it with the same year’s Cider House Rules. Cedar, Cider – what’s the difference?

In the public reception domain, a lot, as it happened. Cider made decent money and received seven Oscar nominations – with two wins – versus a low gross and only one nod for Cedars.

I think I only bothered to see Cider back in the day because of its Oscar attention, and I recall it as a pleasant surprise. Because I still link them in my mind, this left me with hope that Cedars would offer a winning experience.

To some degree, it does, and the movie examines significant subject matter, especially as it relates to bigotry and the marginalization of an ethnic group. Given the current political climate, that topic remains sadly timely, and I appreciate the way Cedars takes on the topic.

However, Cedars tends to spread itself too thin. Based on David Guterson’s 1994 novel, the film feels like a book adaptation that tries a little too hard to cling to the source.

By that I mean the cinematic Cedars goes with a non-linear narrative style that seems more appropriate for the printed page than the silver screen. Of course, some films pull off leaps of time and setting with aplomb, but in this case, the story can’t quite make the different locations and eras connect.

Admittedly, an A to B telling of the tale wouldn’t succeed either, as Cedars needs to integrate flashbacks to work. That said, I think the film plays a little too fast and loose with its subject matter to come together.

Truthfully, I suspect the film’s issues relate more to excessive story ambition than to the non-linear style. Though a courtroom drama at its core, Cedars also gets into the issues related to WWII and the treatment of the Japanese as well as romance and other areas.

A fairly long novel can handle all these domains, but a roughly two-hour movie doesn’t balance them well. We get glimpses of different characters and scenarios without great depth or introspection.

While I respect the filmmakers’ attempts to cover all the ground from the novel, I wish they’d have pared down the final product a bit more. That would’ve allowed for the characters and situations we do see to offer greater breadth and dimensionality.

I certainly can’t fault the cast of Cedars, as we find a stellar crew here. In addition to those I already named, we find Max Von Sydow, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, James Cromwell and James Rebhorn, among others.

They offer an umimpeachable group of actors, and all provide solid performances. Most don’t get a lot to do beyond the basics, though, given the underwritten nature of their roles.

Despite its flaws, Cedars offers a reasonably intriguing take on racism and criminal justice, and I’m glad it doesn’t become the weepy drama the film’s trailer promises. Still, the movie’s ups and downs make it more inconsistent than I’d prefer.

Footnote: for many years, I consistently confused James Rebhorn and James Cromwell. Cedars offers their one and only time onscreen together.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Snow Falling On Cedars appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the image didn’t dazzle, it usually worked fine.

Overall definition seemed good. Occasional instances of mild softness occurred, but those caused no major distractions, so the majority of the film came across as well-defined.

I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and no edge enhancement appeared. The movie showed gentle grain, and in terms of print flaws, I saw a couple of small specks but nothing prominent.

Colors weren't much of an issue for Cedars, as the winter seaside environment didn't exactly suggest "Technicolor spectacular". The palette tended toward a sepia feel. Muted though they were, the hues seemed consistently solid and accurate within stylistic choices.

Black levels appeared good and shadow detail was good. Many scenes occurred in low light, but they never looked murky or too opaque. Despite a few soft shots and some minor print flaws, this became an appealing presentation.

The film's DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack worked fine for the story. With a character focus, only a smattering of scenes opened up the soundscape.

Most of those concentrated on water-based exteriors, so shots on boats and beaches added involvement. A few war flashbacks made decent use of the spectrum, and quieter elements added a good sense of place. Not much of this seemed impressive, but it suited the tale.

Audio quality appeared positive. Speech was acceptably natural, with good intelligibility and no issues connected to edginess. Music came across as reasonably lively and bright, with pretty positive range.

Effects usually stayed subdued throughout the film. They were accurate and concise, so while they usually didn’t pack much of a punch, but they were clean and distinctive. The soundtrack seemed more than satisfying for this sort of effort.

We get a handful of extras here, and we begin with an audio commentary from co-writer/director Scott Hicks. He offers a running, screen-specific look at the source and its adaptation, story/characters, themes, cast and performances, sets and locations, visual design and photography, editing, and connected domains.

Recorded for the original DVD, Hicks brings a fairly good overview here. I can’t claim this ever becomes a dynamic track, but Hicks offers an informative take on the film, so the commentary merits a listen.

With Accident Rules, we find a 51-minute, 39-second documentary that brings notes from Hicks, novelist David Guterman, director of photography Robert Richardson and composer James Newton Howard.

“Rules” covers the novel and its move to the screen, photography, cast and performances, audio and music, and the movie’s reception. Inevitably, some of this repeats from Hicks’ commentary, but we get enough new material to make the program worthwhile.

Next comes A Fresh Snow, a 10-minute, 12-second reel with Richardson as he discusses the movie’s new transfer. Potentially controversially, he talks about how he didn’t attempt to make the Blu-ray look like the film as presented in 1999. That’s surprising, but it’s interesting to hear Richardson’s rationale.

A period featurette, Spotlight on Location lasts 21 minutes, 43 seconds and offers comments from Hicks, Guterson, Richardson, Howard, producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, co-writer Ron Bass, Bainbridge Island Japanese Community president Frank Kitamoto, extras Fumiko and Natalie Hayashida, and actors Ethan Hawke, Max von Sydow, Sam Shepard, Rick Yune and Youki Kudoh.

“Spotlight” discusses the novel and its adaptation, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, research, photography, music, and connected domains. Though “Spotlight” exists as a promo piece, it proves surprisingly informative.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish with nine Deleted Scenes. These fill a total of 21 minutes, 59 seconds.

Many of these offer additional background for Kazuo, and we also find more courtroom material. Some minor expansions occur but nothing especially memorable.

At its heart, Snow Falling On Cedars brings a rich tale of racism, justice and relationships. However, the movie treats the subject matter a little too superficially to really deliver the goods. The Blu-ray offers solid picture as well as appropriate audio and a fairly solid roster of bonus materials. Cedars does enough right to merit a look, but don’t expect greatness.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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