Endō’s classic 1966 novel was generally shaped by his Catholic faith and directly
inspired by a visit to the monument for the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Nagasaki, who
became canonized representatives of the hundreds of thousands who fell victim
to 17th Century Japanese Christian persecution. In the mid-1500s,
there were thought to be upwards of 300,000 Japanese Christian converts, but most
were ruthlessly exposed and subsequently forced to apostatize through torture during
the early to mid-1600s. The missionary Father Cristóvão Ferreira really was
among the Christians who was forced to renounce his faith. The fragmentary news of Ferreira’s downfall is
difficult for his young protégés to accept, so they follow their calling to
Japan in Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited adaptation of Silence (trailer
which opens today in New York.
Jesuits Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe naively assume news of
Ferreira’s apostasy must be greatly exaggerated, but when they secretly arrive
in Japan, the climate of fear and oppression is beyond their worst expectations.
The Christian faith has been forced underground, much like the era of the Roman
catacombs. Their guide will be Kichijiro, an apostatized Christian convert, who
perhaps still believes. However, his frequent willingness to trample fumi-e,
images of Christ and the Virgin expressly fashioned to smoke out secret
Christians, makes him decidedly untrustworthy.
their perilous circumstances, the honesty and purity of the “hidden Christian”
Kakure Kirishitan faith touches Rodrigues deeply. Unfortunately, it is only a
matter of time before the priests are captured by the grand inquisitor, Inoue
Masashige, who is confident breaking the last Jesuits in Japan will deal a decisive
blow to the Kakure Kirishitan remnant. Father Rodrigues is a surprisingly tough
nut to crack, even while undergoing an understandable crisis of faith, but
Masashige has a nefarious trump card to play: the former Father Ferreira at his
beck and call.
Silence is easily one of the most
challenging and uncompromising films about Christian faith produced in the last
twenty years. Utterly free of triumphalism, it depicts the hair-raising
brutality of martyrdom and forced conversion. Christianity is laid low over and
over again, yet there is more concealed in the margins of this story. Much like
Endō’s tonally dissimilar post-script, Scorsese’s long denouement holds the key
to the entire epic tragedy. If you do not stay with it from start to finish,
you will miss the whole point.
rigorously austere aesthetic perfectly suits this harsh morality play. It is like
nature itself serves witness to the atrocities meted out, thanks to
cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s windswept vistas and co-composers Kathryn
& Kim Allen Kluge’s naturally-derived ambient soundscapes.
he never really sounds Portuguese per se, Liam Neeson has the appropriately
weighty presence for Ferreira. His sad eyes and slumped shoulders say
everything he can no longer say. Sadly, Andrew Garfield is terribly miscast as
Rodrigues. He just doesn’t seem capable of properly addressing the film’s
profound questions. Adam Driver fares somewhat better (and looks more
Portuguese) as the comparatively more dogmatic Garrpe. However, the real
soul-searing devastation comes from Tetsuo
auteur Shinya Tsukamoto’s visceral performance as Mokichi, a believer
doomed to Masashige’s martyrdom. If you have anything left after his sacrifice,
Nana Komatsu (from Bakuman and World of Kanako) will finish you off
with her brief but devastating portrayal of naïve Kakure Kirishitan convert
Haru (a.k.a. Monica).
relative weakness is problematic, but it opens the door for Yôsuke Kubozuka,
who becomes the film’s de facto [anti-]hero as the morally unclassifiable Kichijiro,
easily the film’s most complex character. Yet, nobody better personifies the
existential dilemmas faced by Edo-era Christians. Silence is also well stocked with memorable antagonists, like the
smoothly sinister interpreter icily portrayed by Tadanobu Asano. However, everyone
pales compared to the crafty old Masashige, played with to-the-hilt flamboyance
by Issei Ogata that is apparently historically accurate.
its casting issues, Silence is worth
the wait, which is frequently not the case with long gestating passion
projects. It is a bracing film that offers precious little consolation, but it
is a deeply sincere statement of Christian faith. The fact that nobody has re-released
Masahiro Shinoda’s 1971 adaptation represents a bafflingly lost opportunity,
but Scorsese’s take will be challenging enough for many fans of his gangsterish
films. Highly recommended, warts and all, Silence
opens today (12/23) in New York, at the Regal Union Square downtown and the
AMC Loews Lincoln Square uptown.
Labels: Liam Neeson, Martin Scorsese, Shinya Tsukamoto, Shusaku Endo