AN ISLAND'S MEMORY - THE STELLAR CAST - MAKING THE FILM

MAKING THE FILM: STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

More than usual in contemporary cinema, Snow Falling on Cedars exemplifies a dovetailing of story and setting, theme and style and, over-arching these elements, a philosophical perspective about life. Set in 1950, it traverses two previous decades via flashbacks triggered by the memories of its characters. Indeed, its multi-layered form sometimes involves flashbacks within flashbacks, in different time frames, of more than one character, before returning to the story's dominant setting, the murder trial of Kazuo Miyamoto.

"The whole film," says Hicks, "is about the process of revealing. Nothing is quite what it appears to be, therefore you never give it all away at once, but gradually. That was our guiding principle in the entire overall design."

The complex structuring was first begun by screenwriter Ron Bass, who adapted Guterson's novel. "What fascinated me about the book was the way it presents the interplay of past and present in our lives...their interconnectedness; how everything that has gone before, all the elements that seemed so accidental, are present in defining who we are, and what we'll do at a given moment."

To production designer Jeannine Oppewall, "It shows the arbitrary and capricious nature of life -its randomness- something very difficult for us humans to accept. We all too often resort to a court of law because we need someone to blame." For Guterson, the novel is the end result of his own contemplation upon an evident reality: "Horrible things happen to innocent people all the time, for no good reason."

The fulcrum for the story is the inter-racial relationship between Ishmael and Hatsue. Playfully begun in early childhood, by their teen years it has evolves into a kind of love and sexual longing, potentially threatening to the communities from which each springs, Anglo and Japanese. Despite the obvious obstacles, their attachment might have developed into a lifetime commitment, had not Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Instead, it was summarily destroyed.

Ishmael (Hawke) cannot let go of Hatsue (Kudoh). His memories are complicated by the wartime loss of his arm which, perhaps unconsciously, he blames in part on her. As years pass, his lingering love has turned into an obsession. Hatsue on the other hand, has married a member of her own race, given birth to children, and wants nothing to do with him. "You have to let go," she advises.

"The human heart is a fragile thing...and wounds need to be healed," says Bass. "I find the story intensely romantic."

According to Hicks, "The story is told through the gradual unravelling of several different mysteries: what happened at sea...in the war...what happened to Hatsue and Ishmael. I wanted the film to move seamlessly through its different time frames, like a knife through a slice of cake."

Achieving this kind of coherent vision took exceptional effort on the part of the entire filmmaking group. To get it all right, each kept certain primary realities in the forefront of their minds: the Pacific Northwest is a "character" in and of itself; there must be historical verisimilitude and accuracy; and information is meted out very gradually.

Oppewall joined the producers and director on months of scouting throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. "It was important to find the most poetic and visually arresting locations. Since the story reflects the impact of an accident on a settled fishing village, the sets couldn't look in the least haphazard."

The town of Greenwood, British Columbia was chosen to represent part of the fictional fishing village of San Piedro. Located near the Washington border in the heart of the Kootenay mountain range, Greenwood has a population of 800, century old buildings and very little commerce. Of paramount importance: it had a courthouse.

"The courthouse was memorable, isolated from other buildings with a quiet island feel to it," says Oppewall. "In addition, many of the other main street buildings were either vacant or up for sale, thus providing ideal warehousing for the production company's offices, wardrobe, constructions and props shops."

Painters and construction workers labored for nearly three months to transform Greenwood into a 1940's fishing community. From the "San Piedro Cannery" with its artfully faded giant mural of a King Salmon, to "Larsen's Drugs" announcing a sale on Burma Shave, Greenwood's main street became an enchanting exercise in time travel.



© 1999 Universal Studios