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Snow Falling on Cedars

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Scott Hicks
Produced by Ron Bass
Kathleen Kennedy
Frank Marshall
Harry J. Ufland
Written by David Guterson (novel)
Ron Bass (screenplay)
Scott Hicks
Starring Ethan Hawke
Youki Kudoh
Reeve Carney
Anne Suzuki
Rick Yune
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Editing by Hank Corwin
Studio Kennedy/Marshall
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) December 22, 1999
Running time 127 min.
Country USA
Language English
Budget $35 million

Snow Falling on Cedars is a film directed by Scott Hicks. It is based on David Guterson's novel of the same title. It was released in 1999 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.



Set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound region of the state of Washington coast in 1951, the plot revolves around the murder case of Kazuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American accused of killing Carl Heine, a respected fisherman in the close-knit community. The trial occurs in the midst of deep anti-Japanese sentiments following World War II. Covering the case is the editor of the town's one-man newspaper, Ishmael Chambers, a World War II veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese. Torn by a sense of hatred for the Japanese, Chambers struggles with his love for Kazuo's wife, Hatsue, and his conscience, wondering if Kazuo is truly innocent.

Spearheading the prosecution are the town's sheriff, Art Moran, and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks. Leading the defense is the old, experienced Nels Gudmundsson. An underlying theme throughout the trial is prejudice. Several witnesses, including Etta Heine, Carl's mother, accuse Kazuo of murdering Carl for racial and personal reasons. Etta is a stereotypical anti-Japanese person; she represents the part of America that persecuted Japanese Americans during the Second World War. This stance is not without irony, as Kazuo Miyamoto (a decorated war veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team), experienced prejudice because of his ancestry, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As Etta Heine is a German American, by the same standard she could be blamed for Nazi war crimes.

Also involved in the trial are Horace Whaley, the town coroner, and Ole Jurgensen, an elderly man who sells his strawberry field to Carl. The strawberry field is contested in the trial. The land was originally owned by Carl Heine Sr. The Miyamotos lived in a house on the Heines' land and picked strawberries for Mr. Heine. Kazuo and Carl Heine Jr. were close friends as children. Kazuo's father eventually approached Heine Sr. about purchasing 7 acres (28,000 m2) of the farm. Though Etta opposed the sale, Carl Sr. agreed. The payments were to be made over a ten-year period. However, before the last payment was made, war erupted between the US and Japan following Pearl Harbor, and all islanders of Japanese ancestry were forced to relocate to internment camps. In 1944, Carl Sr. died due to a heart attack and Etta Heine sold the land to Ole Jurgensen. When Kazuo returned after the war, he was extremely bitter towards Etta for reneging on the land sale. When Ole Jurgensen suffered a stroke and decided to sell the farm, he was approached by Carl Heine Jr., hours before Kazuo arrived to try to buy the land back. During the trial, the disputed land is presented as a family feud and the motivation behind Carl's murder.

Ishmael's search of the maritime records reveals on the night that Carl Heine died a freighter had passed through the channel where Carl had been fishing at 1:42am, five minutes before his watch had stopped. Ishmael realises that Carl was thrown overboard by the force of the freighter's wake. Despite the bitterness he feels at Hatsue's rejection, Ishmael comes forward with the new information. Further evidence is collected in support of the conclusion that Carl had climbed the boat's mast to cut down a lantern, been knocked from the mast by the freighter's wake, hit his head, then fallen into the sea. The charges against Kazuo Miyamoto are dismissed.



  • American Society of Cinematographers, USA
    • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases - Robert Richardson (nominated)
  • International Press Academy - Satellite Awards
    • Best Film - Drama (nominated)
    • Best Actress - Drama - Youki Kudoh (nominated)
    • Best Director - Scott Hicks (nominated)
    • Best Cinematography (nominated)
    • Best Original Score (nominated)
  • Young Artist Awards
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young Actor - Reeve Carney - WON
  • Young Star Awards
    • Best Young Actress/Performance in a Motion Picture Drama - Anne Suzuki (nominated)

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