Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

Directed by Scott Hicks

In the 1950s, a Japanese-American fisherman is suspected of killing his neighbour at sea. For Ishmael, a local reporter, the trial strikes a deep emotional chord when he finds his ex-lover is linked to the case. As he investigates the killing, he uncovers some startling clues that lead him to a shocking discovery.

Borderline 'all filler, no killer' experimental editing decisions set this apart from all the other Miramax-esque adaptions of popular novels, and it is furthermore refreshing to see a mainstream film attempt to deflate the now-idealised view of post-WW2 America.

But the film's ultimate conception that the US, whilst it "might have made its fair share of mistakes in the past", will inevitably rediscover its moral heart through the ethics of its (literal and metaphorical forefathers) is not merely twee, but vaguely disquieting from the vantage point of 2024. To be sure, it was a central tenet of the 1990s in the West that racism was a thing of the past and we see that reproduced many times here — those prejudiced against the Japanese are depicted as irrational and/or potentially mentally ill, rather than products of a broader system of injustice, and all whilst the institutional nature of American racism that 'interned' the Japanese in the first place is curiously unexamined beyond visuals that allude to Nazi concentration camps. Furthermore, the extreme aestheticism of the film only serves to suggest that this is a period/historical piece, something long consigned to American history, which in turn, overly and undeservedly flatters the present. Some good performances when the screenplay permits of course (modulo Kazuo's paper-thin characterisation that ironically reproduces the racist trope of the 'inscrutable' Asian), but this attractive coffee-table art book of a movie is paradoxically precious and fragile, with something rather unlikeable at its core.