Snow Falling on Cedars: Collector's Edition (1999)

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Released 11-Jul-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Spotlight On Location (21:43)
Audio Commentary-Scott Hicks (Director)
Deleted Scenes-(21:06)
Notes-Manzanar Internment Camp
Theatrical Trailer-1.78:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Web Links
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 122:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:57) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Scott Hicks
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Ethan Hawke
James Cromwell
Richard Jenkins
Youki Kudoh
James Rebhorn
Sam Shepard
Rick Yune
Max Von Sydow
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music James Newton Howard


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Portuguese
French
Arabic
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    If I were pushed for an answer, I would be quite unable to explain why this film demanded my attention when its release was announced and the review opportunity was up for grabs. I had not seen it theatrically and the subject matter was hardly the sort of stuff that I would describe as my normal diet. But, something definitely tweaked the interest here, and having now watched the film, I am very glad that I did. If you like nice linear films that start at the beginning and progress to the end, then this is one that you should normally avoid. The film pretty much starts at the end and fills in the rest of the story by flashbacks. Confusing? Not in the least, and this film handles it as well as I have ever seen in film. If this sounds like the sort of thing that you would normally avoid, let me urge you straight out to at least give this film a watch. We have already been blessed with at least one superb film this year on DVD in La Vita e Bella (Life Is Beautiful) - another can now be added to the list, and even though I have mentioned La Vita e Bella (Life Is Beautiful), this film is nothing at all like it other than in the general superb quality on offer.

    Providing a plot synopsis for this film is actually an enormously difficult thing, as it is an extremely dense film with an awful lot going on, with most of it not having a lot to do with what is supposedly happening on screen. At its very core, it is a simple mystery about discovering what happened one foggy night in a local shipping channel that resulted in the drowning of a local fisherman Carl Heine (Eric Thal). When he fails to return, the local Sheriff, Art Moran (Richard Jenkins) heads out in search of Carl's vessel. Discovered adrift in the calm shipping channel with its nets still out, the whereabouts of Carl is soon discovered. On a lot of rather circumstantial evidence, an "inscrutable" Japanese American fisherman in Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) is charged with Carl's murder, and so mystery number one is played out in the court of the little town of San Pedrio. However, all is not as plain as it seems and in playing out mystery number one, mystery number two is brought into play as the wife of the accused, Hatsue Miyamoto (Youki Kudoh), had a relationship with the editor/reporter of the local newspaper, Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) and this forms a backdrop to the courtroom story. This relationship failed to survive the Second World War, which is the basis of the third mystery around which the film revolves: the relationship of the American and Japanese American population of this small town that was very much split by one of the most disgraceful episodes in American history. For those that are not aware, shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, the United States government invoked laws that resulted in American citizens of Japanese descent being rounded up and placed into internment camps for much of the rest of the war.

    Unfortunately, to provide much more of a synopsis would in fact give away far too much of the film, and to be honest, this film has such a wide scope that what is going on is very much a subjective thing. It is a love story in many ways, a reminder of how difficult it is to divorce oneself away from deep relationships of the past, and how they continue to affect the future. It is a story about racism and prejudice, on a tapestry far less known than the more well-reported black and white issue. It is a story about the irrationality of such racism and prejudice based purely on how one looks, rather than looking at the rationality of the character of a person, and how it resulted in one of the worst passages in American history. It is a story about the mistrust that arises from the irrationality of the racism and prejudice. It is an indictment of the lack of genuine commitment to the philosophies at the very core of the American Declaration of Independence. The more one watches this film, the more one can find within the film. It can be viewed as shallowly as the simple murder mystery, or it can be viewed as deeply as the strong racist divisions that did exist and still exist in not just American society, but in most societies of the supposedly developed countries of the world.

    Obviously to bring to the screen such a dense story requires special talents and special dedication. This begins with the superb screenplay but requires special performances to bring the screenplay to life, and in that regard this is blessed with some fine efforts. At the supposed core of the film is Ethan Hawke, but in some ways his lead character is very much a periphery to the story - a sort of link but not much more to the true flow of the film. His performance as the young reporter trying to overcome the effects of World War Two as well as trying to move beyond the shadow of his father is very good indeed. Japanese pop star Youki Kudoh is no less brilliant as the wife of the accused, trying to come to terms with the charge against her husband, her youthful relationship with Ishmael and the desires of her parents to be true to her race. Scott Hicks has assembled a superb ensemble cast here and each provides a truly memorable performance. Max Von Sydow is wonderful as the ageing Swedish American lawyer, Sam Shepard briefly memorable as Ishmael's father, Rick Yune (in his debut role) the epitome of Japanese stoicism and inscrutability, Celia Weston suitably convincing as the somewhat racist widow of a German American farmer and James Cromwell his sterlingly reliable self as the judge. Everywhere you look here there is a quality of performance that just draws you in to the story. The direction of Scott Hicks is stunningly effective, but what really stands out here above all else is some of the best cinematography you are ever likely to see. The result is a visual treat of rare quality and how this did not win Best Cinematography at the Oscars (it was nominated, but lost out in the American Beauty hype-fest) is beyond my comprehension.

    Certainly the extensive use of flashbacks to provide so much of the flow of the story is not going to be to everyone's tastes. But in this instance it is done so utterly superbly that it is very hard to imagine the novel by David Guterson being brought to life in any other way. If La Vita e Bella (Life Is Beautiful) made an early bid for release of the year, then this effort is certainly going to push it very hard indeed. A superbly evocative film that is very atypical of the general quality that seems to make it onto Region 4 DVD. Do yourself a huge favour and give this one a view or three.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Universal have not exactly been consistent in their transfers to date in Region 4, with the result that there is a good degree of adventure involved in reviewing any of their releases. Every so often they manage to pull something very special out of the bag, and the likes of Shakespeare In Love and The Mummy spring to mind here, and this is another of those rare efforts. In short, this is magnificent, with only some extremely minor aliasing to barely detract from what is virtually a perfect transfer.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and in this instance is 16x9 enhanced, which of course begs the question as to why Universal is not consistent in the application of 16x9 enhancement.

    From the opening scene of the barely-visible fishing boat in the fog, this transfer just exudes quality, in both definition and clarity. This definition and clarity is sustained throughout the entire film, other than in those places where it was deliberately restrained (such as in the fog), and this is perhaps no better demonstrated than the shots in the forest during the rain, when just about every rain drop is clearly seen. This is a wonderfully sharp transfer highlighted by the stunning definition during the darker segments of the film. Despite the extremely effective use made of deep shadows, the detail nonetheless remains uniformly high throughout. There did not appear to be any grain at all in the transfer and to make any suggestion about the presence of low level noise in the transfer would be to invoke demands for my incarceration. Visually, this is as stunningly good a transfer as I have ever seen.

    Whilst the palette of colours has been deliberately kept very restrained (as noted in the audio commentary) this remains a wonderfully vibrant transfer, with a positive radiance to the greys and browns inherent in so much of the film. The result is an extremely convincing depiction of a cold bleak winter in the waters off Washington state. You will be very sadly disappointed if you are looking for bright primary colours here, as they simply do not fit the period nor mood of the film at all. There is obviously no hint of oversaturation at all, and little indication anywhere of colour bleed.

    There are absolutely no hints of any MPEG artefacts here at all. The only evidence of film-to-video artefacts in the transfer were some very minor instances of aliasing at around the 12:40 mark and for brief instances from then through to around the 14:00 mark. These are very, very minor instances and are barely noticeable and certainly not distracting to the film at all. As far as I can recall the only film artefact in the whole transfer was actually during the Universal logo! I am sure there were others but they were completely non-disruptive to the film and I did not notice them if they were there.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc and the layer change is a very good one, coming at 77:57. It is barely noticeable and is completely non-disruptive to the flow of the film.

Audio

    Matching the superb video transfer is a sublimely effective audio transfer.

    There are four audio tracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0. You should note that the packaging is incorrect in referring to an Italian soundtrack, as this is not present on the DVD. I listened to the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and the English Audio Commentary.

    This is a heavily sound driven film, even though Scott Hicks tried to minimize the use of dialogue as much as possible. The result is a soundtrack that has a wide range in the audio level that does require just a touch of judicious manipulation of the volume control at times. However, this is a film-related matter and not a DVD-related matter and in general the dialogue was clear and easy to understand.

    There was no suggestion of audio sync problems with the soundtrack.

    The original music score comes from James Newton Howard and a stunner it is too. Superbly evocative at times, wonderfully sublime at others, you will go a long way before finding as well a matched soundtrack as this in recent films. In some ways this is the very best I have heard from this source, and he is definitely now amongst the elite in this field of artistic endeavour.

    The main feature of the soundtrack is the fact that there is nothing at all wrong with it. Simple statement of fact. The surround channel use is very good, wonderfully evocative with a glorious spaciousness and crispness to it, as befitting the setting of the film. The bass channel got rather limited use, which is to be expected in a film of this sort, but when called upon it did a superb job. The soundscape overall is so stunningly effective that it borders on being uncanny. There was obviously a very large degree of emphasis placed upon the sound for the film, as evidenced by the interesting juxtaposition of sound effects at times, and this is clearly reflected in the quality of the audio transfer. Brilliant stuff, and amply demonstrating yet again that subtlety is a most effective way of showing off sound capabilities.

Extras

    When Universal stick the Collector's Edition banner on a DVD, we are usually guaranteed a very good package. We have got it.

Menu

    Evocatively themed as everything else is with respect of the film, the menus are all 16x9 enhanced, with the main menu having the added bonus of audio enhancement. The selection indicator for each choice on the menu is a little difficult to see at times, but that would be the only complaint here at all.

Theatrical Trailer (2:28)

    A nicely evocative effort that thankfully does not give away too much of the film, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not 16x9 enhanced and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Audio Commentary - Scott Hicks (Director)

    Since he lives in Adelaide, we will claim him as our own, and say what a nice effort he has provided here. The only really complaint is that his delivery is somewhat monotonic, but that strangely suits the film very well! Thankfully, he is somewhat restrained and does not feel the need to yabber on incessantly, which again is most welcome. He provides a wealth of information about what was trying to be achieved, which really does aid the understanding of the film somewhat - and therefore this should not be listened to until you have watched the film at least once. I hate these things in general, but this one is pretty effective, if not exactly entertaining in its own right.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    The usual comprehensive efforts that we expect from this source.

Deleted Scenes (21:06)

    These comprise nine deleted scenes or alternate versions to scenes in the film, and are of very good quality for a change. This is not your normal dregs scrapped off the floor stuff here and they are nicely presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced regrettably and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Whilst they in general were omitted from the film for usually good reason, at least one provides a much more telling story than what actually ended up in the film. Overall, these deleted scenes are a very nice addition from a technical quality point of view and a film-making point of view.

Featurette - Spotlight On Location (21:43)

    Not the usual six to ten minute stuff here, but actually a decent length effort that does go into the film more than many I have seen recently. Presented in a Full Frame ratio, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. One of the better such efforts recently and as such another very nice addition to the package. Interesting too in that some of the interviewees are people who were actually interned in the wartime camps and whom Scott Hicks used in the film as extras.

Notes - Manzanar Internment Camp

    Eight "pages" of notes that briefly detail the history of these blights on the American history book. Since many will not be aware of these almost-concentration camps into which American citizens were placed by their own government, this is an exceedingly welcome addition to the package and goes a long way to explaining more of the back story to the film.

Production Notes

    Twenty "pages" of the usual exhaustive notes that are the norm from this source.

Web Links

    A pox on the d*** things I say.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     This hardly constitutes a serious loss unless you really need to see a film that so effectively uses (and needs) the widescreen format butchered in such a way. Another Region 4 winner.

Summary

    A truly superb film, albeit one that is not going to be to everyone's tastes. La Vita e Bella was denied inclusion in the Hall Of Fame due to the lack of a decent extras package. Snow Falling On Cedars has that extras package and as a result is my first induction into the Hall of Fame. Magnificent cinematography brought to life by a superb video transfer and matched by a superb audio transfer.

    A superb video transfer.

    A superb audio transfer.

    A very good extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, July 11, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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