Imagine how entertaining it is to watch snow falling on cedars. Or paint drying on cedar shingles. Or grass growing in cedar meadows. Any one of these activities are infinitely more entertaining than this movie.
Ethan Hawke (call him Ishmael) is a reporter living in the shadow of his much admired father. He's covering the murder trial of Kazuo Miyamoto. Kazuo's wife, Hatsue, was Ishmael's childhood sweetheart, and he's still obsessed with her.
The movie is set shortly after the second world war, when prejudice against Japanese Americans still ran high. It very obviously attempts to be another To Kill a Mockingbird. Max Von Sydow, in the movie's only notable performance, even sounds a bit like Gregory Peck as he plays Nels, the defense attorney. But Mockingbird was full of interesting, three-dimensional characters. With the exception of Nels and the judge, the characters in this film are flatter than the origami pressed between the pages of Ishmael's scrapbooks.
Most of the film is made up of flashbacks. Long, long flashbacks, some of them in slow motion to prolong the agony. We want to shout "OK, they were childhood sweethearts, we get it already." Even flashbacks of the camps where Japanese Americans were interned during the war evoke little emotion other than a yearning for it to be over and to get back to the story.
But when the flashbacks finally end, the story we get back to remains as slow and dull as ever. We keep hoping that a lamp will fall over and start a fire, or a tidal wave will hit the town, or a conversation will become interesting, or Ishmael will discover a pimple on his nose, anything, anything to break the monotony. Alas, nothing ever does. Even when Ishmael finally decides to stop being a schumck it's too late for us to give a damn.
This is one of the most miserable snoozers I've seen in a long time. And I haven't even mentioned the lousy, gray photography and schmaltzy soundtrack yet. (The photography was lousy, and mostly gray. The soundtrack was schmaltzy.) When this reaches the cut-out bins, be a good Samaritan - buy it, take it home, and melt it in your microwave. You'll be saving a stranger from a horrible experience.
© 2001 Dave Hitt