Making the Grades
Is there any part of World War II that hasn't been analyzed, fictionalized, or movie-ized? Snow Falling On Cedars examines a moment of shame that most Americans and Canadians have chosen to ignore.
Even though nine years have passed since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yume) feels there is little hope of defending himself when he is accused of murder. After all, the jury is made up of citizens who watched the government round up Japanese immigrants, strip them of their property, and take them to internment camps. His three-day trial (and a series of flashbacks presented in random chronology) will test both his motives and those of the Pacific Northwest community where he grew up.
For Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), owner of the local newspaper, the case brings back the teachings of his father who publicly defended the American Japanese during the war. His anti-prejudice influence helped Ishmael to fall in love with young Hatsue (Youki Kudoh). But things are far more complicated now because Hatsue is married to Kazuo (the defendant).
This film uses the romance between Ishmael and Hatsue to magnify the tragic persecution of innocent American (and Canadian) Japanese immigrants. However the couple's frequent secret meetings in the forest lead to scenes of teen sensuality, including one implying they have had intercourse (although Hatsue later denies having done so). Two other unnecessary scenes portray married adults in sexual activities, with obscured or hidden nudity.
The artistic and beautiful cinematography contributes to the chilling tone, however many flashbacks of war and fighting (although somewhat justified) may trouble some viewers. Dead and severely injured soldiers are depicted, including an arm that is graphically amputated.
The portrayal of this wrongful treatment of the Japanese people is overdue. While this movie intends to help us understand this history, the sexual content and violence may pose concerns to parents wanting to share it with their family.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Snow Falling On Cedars.
Why do you think Hatsue chose to marry Kazuo instead of Ishmael? Do you think she made the right decision? Why do you think U.S. and Canadian governments identified citizens of Japanese descent, but not German decent? Why do we not often discuss this portion of our history?