Blu-ray Review: Snow Falling On Cedars (Collector’s Edition)

Snow Falling on Cedars could have easily been a tale of a homicide investigation and trial in the Pacific Northwest. But like any good book, it went for a deeper subject that people didn’t talk too much about in the mid-90s and many kept forgotten. After Pearl Harbor, American citizens of Japanese ancestry were rounded up by federal officials and kept in what were nicely called internment camps. But they were really prison camps. Men, women and children that were American citizens were locked away for years with no charges or proof that they were aiding the Japanese military. Things weren’t easy for those released from the camps after the War as they returned home only to find out what had been done to their property. Even though they hadn’t acted against the country, their neighbors were not asking for forgiveness for being a part of this horrible act. Snow Falling on Cedars revives this time and attitude.

Near the island of San Piedro on the Puget Sound fisherman Carl Heine is found dead and drifting in his net. Seeing how this is 1950, there’s not much CSI action done by the police. After an autopsy and a brief bit of crime scene searching, Sheriff Art Moran (The Shape of Water‘s Richard Jenkins) and prosecutor Alvin Hooks (My Cousin Vinny‘s James Rebhorn) bust Kabuo Miyamoto (Die Another Day‘s Rick Yune) for homicide. Their belief is that Kabuo killed Heine over a real estate deal. Kabuo’s father was in the process of buying seven acres of land over a long term payment deal. But before the final payments could be made, the family was taken off to the internment camp. Thus they couldn’t give the final payments. Would a frustrated family member really risk it all to get revenge? Kabou served in the US Army during World War II, but in the European theater. The only person who is truly investigating the death is the local reporter who also owns the newspaper. Ishmael Chambers (Before Sunrise‘s Ethan Hawke) wants to do fair reporting, but he’s in a bit deep with their trial. First off he lost his arm while fighting the Japanese in the Pacific islands. But the biggest issue is that he is still in love with Kabou’s wife Hatsue Miyamoto (Picture Bride‘s Youki Kudoh). She was forbidden to marry him when they were much younger. He’s still in love with her, but can he let that get in the way of his coverage?

Snow Falling on Cedars is a very overcast movie since director Scott Hicks (Shine) and cinematographer Robert Richardson (Natural Born Killers) really darkened up the screen. You get a sense of the thick snow clouds that won’t part over this island. While the movie is centered around the courtroom action including having Max von Sydow as Kabou’s defense laywer, so much is told in flashbacks and around the island as leads are tracked down. The movie didn’t do too well when it opened in December 1999, but part of that could be that people were freaking out about Y2K. Now after two decades, Snow Falling on Cedars deserves to be rediscovered as a murder mystery with bigger implications.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer is a 4K that cinematographer Robert Richardson oversaw. It is very dark on the screen as if the sun refuses to shine on this part of the country. Audio is 5/1 DTS-HD MA Surround so you can feel a part of the snowy world. There’s also a 2.0 DTS-HD mix. The movie has English subtitles.

Accident Rules (51:39) looks back at the film with fresh interviews with Director/Co-Writer Scott Hicks, Novelist David Guterson, Director Of Photography Robert Richardson, and Composer James Newton Howard. It’s interesting to hear the novelist’s perspective. He speaks how the book wasn’t a major hit, but built up a readership so after a year it finally popped up on Bestseller lists. Hicks read the book while editing Shine. He was able to get the project after Universal bought the rights. Guterson gave Hicks a tour of the area while he was rewriting the script.

A Fresh Snow (10:120) follows the restoration of the film with Robert Richardson. What’s amazing is that even a film that was released in 1999, Richardson can’t locate a 35mm film print. Cinematographer Richardson is going through the movie and bringing it back to what they intended audiences to see on the big screen. He hated the original DVD transfer. Guessing the prints were lost in the notorious Universal vault fire.

Audio Commentary With Scott Hicks has him go in-depth on his intentions in the film and stories from production.

Spotlight On Location (21:43) is the original making of special. The main actors and crew speak of adapting the novel to the screen. Max von Sydow talks of how the book was a hit in Sweden.

Deleted Scenes (21:59) includes war memories and the family burying the samurai sword to hide it from the government.

Theatrical Trailer (2:29) explores the killing, the unrequited love and the trail.

Shout! Factory presents Snow Falling on Cedars: Collector’s Edition. Directed by Scott Hicks. Screenplay by: Ron Bass & Scott Hicks. Starring: Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins, Youki Kudoh, James Rebhorn, Sam Shepard, Rick Yune & Max von Sydow. Rated: PG-13. Running Time: 127 minutes. Released: November 5, 2019.

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