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The Silence of the Scorsese

Saturday, 4 March, 2017

In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuits travel to Japan to find their mentor, who has disappeared and supposedly renounced his faith. The Japanese authorities, fearful of colonial influence, have outlawed Christianity, which makes the priests’ mission mortally dangerous. In his 1966 novel, Silence, Shusaku Endo explored the many intricate, terrible torments feudal Japan devised to kill priests. Snippet:

“Two trees, made into the form of a cross, were set at the water’s edge. Ichizo and Mokichi were fastened to them. When it was night and the tide came in, their bodies would be immersed in the sea up to the chin. They would not die at once, but after two or even three days of utter physical and mental exhaustion they would cease to breathe.”

The plight of those “hidden Christians” (隠れキリシタン Kakure Kirishitan) portrayed by Endo was one of the reasons Martin Scorsese decided to turn the book into his latest film. The severity of his Silence is complete. The priests who survive capture and torture are forced to live as Japanese subjects, with Japanese wives, and are finally buried as Buddhists. Their notions of religious community and cultural identity are consumed by the flames of the pyre. But there is a ray of hope as Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) secretly gives absolution one last time to a hidden Christian.

Silence has not done well at the box office and the Oscar for Cinematography category in which it was nominated, went to La La Land. Still, it is a powerful statement about faith and despair and the performances of Issey Ogata as the Inquisitor and Tadanobu Asano as the Interpreter are stellar. In time, people will come to treasure Silence.


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