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Both the film ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ directed by Scott Hicks and the novel ‘The Sea and Poison’ written by Shusaku Endo embody and expose issues of racism and give the reader or audience a sense of the consequences of such hatred in different ways. Hick’s film is about a trial that reveals the prejudice that people have towards Japanese-Americans. A community that concentrated a variety of ethnicity, among them was both Whites and Japanese. As a result of the racial differences, racism has come into existences and has impacted the life of both children and adult in that isolated island called San Piedro.
It is responsible for the internment of Kabuo, Hatsue, and their families to the camps during World War 2, the break-up of Hatsue and Ishmael, Kabuo’s loss of his land, and perhaps for his indictment for murder. Whereas Endo’s novel uses the case of the vivisections performed on the US POW to symbolise the brutality, of such uncivilised prejudice.
Although both challenge racism face-to-face, Hicks’ film cannot be underestimated with the effect it has. Not only is the theme of racism present within the central story of the film but it is also seen within the smaller romantic and social stories.
Endo’s novel on the other hand does convey strong racial themes but to the reader there are also issues relating to ethnic bias which in some parts tends to overwhelm the intentional matter of racism. Racism is “the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
” (cited from < www. dictionary. com >, 2004). Mostly all racism is a result of ignorance. It can range from a simple comment to make another human being feel inferior, to complex actions that make others feel unwelcome in society because of who they are.
These are all evident within both of the texts especially with regards to how the people treated the Japanese in Hick’s film and how the Japanese treated the other races in Endo’s novel. What is race? The article titled ‘Race’ by B. Ashcroft (1998 p. 198) mentions that “race is a term for the classification of human beings into physically, biologically and genetically distinct groups. ” It also mentions that “the notion of race assumes, firstly that humanity is divided into unchanging natural types, recognisable by physical features that are transmitted ‘through the blood’ and permit distinctions to be made between ‘pure’ and ‘mixed’ races. (Ashcroft 1998, p. 198).
This is seen to be relating within both of the texts but mainly within ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ in that there is a clear distinction between the races: there is the Japanese and the Whites. In ‘The Sea and Poison’ however there are many different races such as the Chinese, the American, the Germans and the Japanese. Within Endo’s novel the reader can find representations of racism in ways that are not really expected. There is the major theme of racism towards the US, but what is even more obvious are the racist ideas and actions that the Japanese have towards their Asian cousins.
The first sign of racism is found within the prologue where a nameless narrator hears of the crimes committed by the Japanese. The owner of the gas station proudly and without hesitation shouts out slander to whoever will listen about the “chinks” and then also talks about how he “did whatever he wanted with the women” and that “any bastard that made any complaints was tied to a tree and used for target practice”. (Endo 1992, p. 17). From this brutal behaviour the reader is confronted with issues of racism towards the Asians. The examples of racism that the Japanese show towards other Asians is effective through the tone used.
The manner in which the text is written allows the reader to empathise and appreciate with greater seriousness the issues that existed between the Japanese and the Asians. The descriptions of the vivisections performed on the US, although they were indeed graphic, were less effective because of their lack in emotional language. The descriptions tended to be more clinical in its language use. Also the treatment of the Manchurians by nurse Ueda can be seen as another example of the kind of racism that existed between the Japanese and other Asians.
When she moves to Manchuria firstly she is shocked by the treatment shown towards the locals as she says “all this racket scared me” (Endo 1992, p. 86) whenever she would hear her neighbour, Mrs Zoga, hitting and shouting at her servants. However her view changed after a while as she slowly became used to it and started to believe her husband when he said that “it was the way the Manchurians were. You had to knock them around; otherwise they wouldn’t do anything”. (Endo 1992, p. 86).
Although later the reader learns that not long after getting her own Manchurian servant that nurse Ueda soon admits that she too “soon got into the habit of hitting her, for no reason at all”. (Endo 1992, p. 87). This again shows how effective Endo is in portraying racial issues by showing the tensions between the Japanese and other Asians. A subtle representation of racism within Hick’s film can be seen through his use of flashbacks. During these, the audience becomes aware that Ishmael and Hatsue were childhood friends as we see them enjoying many hours of fun together whilst growing up.
As the flashbacks progress on the audience learns more about them and that in fact they had intimate romance together as teenagers. As the audience look closer at the flashbacks it soon becomes clear that both Hatsue and Ishmael are indulging in a forbidden romance with each other. This is shown through the film techniques used. For example each time the audience is shown a flashback both Hatsue and Ishmael are alone, filmed in isolated areas like the logs on the beach or in the hollowed out cedar tree. Hick’s use of low light in these scenes adds to the feeling that Ishmael, being a white boy, should not be with Hatsue, a Japanese girl.
He is trying to give an indication of the racial tension within the community on the island of San Piedro. Another effective representation of racism within Hick’s film is the scene where the young Hatsue is having her hair done by her mother. Through what seems like a bonding moment between mother and daughter Hatsue’s mother tries to emphasise the importance of a marriage to a Japanese man, telling her to “stay away from white boys”. (Hicks 1999). This is quite interesting in that it is kind of a reversal of what is usually expected.
Instead of representing racism as just being a one-sided affair, Hick’s makes it into a two-way street. The racial disharmony can be seen from both sides as both the Japanese and the Americans refer to each race as the ‘other’. This suggests that both races were the inflictors as well as the victims of racial ideas rather then just one. The movie ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ is clearly the text which offers a more profound insight into the issue of racism. A profound insight being defined as “penetrating beyond what is superficial or obvious. ” (cited from < www. dictionary. com >, 2004).
This is because of the fact that it is a movie and can therefore open to a wider audience and is more accessible to people then a novel is. Film is also a deeper medium in which to portray the issues of racism because it can explore more into the senses of people. Through film the audience can engage both the senses of sight and hearing through the use of visual graphics and audio stimulating materials such as music soundtracks. Film techniques can also be taken advantage of for example high or low camera angles which can be used during the process of filming to help present the issues within the film.
Interest of the audiences and depth in certain characters and the events they are involved in or environments they are in can be grabbed by the use of camera angles. In the end the audience is engaged more and ends up getting a deeper understanding of the issues within the film. Within many of the courtroom scenes in ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ Hicks uses these camera techniques. For example the Japanese community all sit behind Miyamoto and the camera angles used when focusing in on them often tends to be high and as a result it seems as if the audience are looking down on them from above.
This angle gives forth a feeling of inferiority of the Japanese. On the other hand Ishmael, is filmed in a reversal manner to the Japanese in that they use a low camera angle so that it looks like the audience is looking up to him. It gives off the feeling of power and control. As well as the use of camera angles, environments and settings can be created which can help to explore the issues within the film. For example with the deserted beach and the hollowed out cedar tree these were used by Hick’s as isolated settings to add to the telling of the story.
These settings all help in the discovery of racial issues and attitudes towards mixed relationships. These add to the effectiveness of the text as the audience can appreciate the message the text is trying to portray on a different level. Although Endo’s ‘The Sea and Poison’ is effective in some way it is clearly at a disadvantage in that it is a novel and because of this fact it struggles to show the audience the same insight into the issues of racism than that of ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’. Another reason for the novel only being effective to a certain extent is because it has numerous minor themes within.
The issue of social inequality within the Japanese race arises as the main theme addressed especially through the long, descriptive and emotional passages of the old lady’s operation. When comparing this to the treatment of Mrs Tabe, the old lady is treated with complete disrespect. For Mrs Tabe her doctors are seen to be confident that she will make a full recovery from a successful operation, whereas even thought it seems to be a similar operation for the old lady she is given no chance of survival. The whole hospital just accepts the fact that she will not live.
Issues of social inequality are explored through the treatment of both of these patients who undergo similar operations. There is a clear distinction between the professional and optimistic treatment of Mrs Tabe to the neglected and pessimistic treatment of the old lady. This is so touching that it takes the readers thought away from the main issue of racism to the issue of social inequality within Japan. Because of this the issue of racism which is supposed to be the major theme within the novel now becomes a secondary theme.
Thus leading more to the fact that Endo’s novel is less profound than Hick’s film in bringing forth the issues of racism. Although in ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ there is evidence of minor themes within the story just like that of ‘The Sea and Poison’, there is a difference. The Minor themes in Hick’s film do play some part within the issue of racism, whereas in Endo’s novel his minor themes can be linked to broader social issues like social inequality like mentioned before.
For example in Hick’s film there is the romance between Hatsue and Ishmael, which is powerful issue but it does not take control over the main racism issue, infact in some way they actually compliment or help to emphasis the racism issue. The romance being that it is forbidden shows the audience of the attitudes of the community towards mixed relationships and it gives the audience an understanding into the influence of racism as it is this influence which splits Hatsue and Ishmael apart. Both ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ and ‘The Sea and Poison’ look at and characterize the issue of racism in different ways.
Hick’s uses emotive language and harsh expressive tones but he has an advantage in that he can use film techniques such as camera angles and has a medium which is more popular then that of a novel, which can offer a more profound insight into the racism issues. Endo also uses harsh tones and emotive language to fill his readers with an awareness of the issue of racism but also about morality and social discrimination. ‘Snow Falling on Cedars is arguably superior to that of ‘The Sea and Poison’ because the audience is more engaged due to the fact that it is a movie and not a book.
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