‘Silence’ the Movie

If I had posted this about a week ago, it would have been the turkey, but now it’s just a rest of gravy. Nonetheless, I like to write an article about it, as it represents a part of Japanese history that is very fascinating to me. The talk is – as the above trailer gives away – Martin Scorsese‘s (マーティン・スコセッシ; The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gangs of New York) latest work and pet project with the adaption of ‘Silence’. A movie based on the best-seller novel of Endou Shuusaku (Shūsaku Endō; 遠藤 周作・えんどう しゅうさく; Japanese author from March 27, 1923 – September 29, 1996) by the same name, published in 1966, revolving around Christianity in Japan.

The release of the historic drama has kept being postponed, a project dear to the maestro, he felt no rush until a suitable time for the release was found. Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the novel’s release? Who knows what the director’s thoughts are, but now the year-long creation (Scorsese was already in contact with Endou about the movie in the 90’s), finally premiered last Tuesday, on November 29th, 2016, in the Vatican.

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Colored photographs in a related book I will talk about a bit further down. On the bottom right, you can seen the author of ‘Silence’, late Endou Shuusaku. Right next to him a fumi-e, also further explained later on and on the top left you see a miniature model of the trading post Dejima, which belonged to the Portuguese until their expulsion in 1641, 2 years after the story of ‘Silence’ takes place. The man-made island would then go over to the Dutch, who would remain the only Western nation to interact with Japan for more than 200 years…a bit of history on the side 💡.

Cast and Anticipation

Scorsese, once himself playing with the thought of becoming a priest and considering himself as a lapsed Christian, summoned a nameable cast of Hollywood stars with Liam Neeson (リーアム・ニーソン; Schindler’s List, Star Wars Taken 1 + 2), Andrew Garfield (アンドリュー・ガーフィールド; Amazing Spiderman, Hacksaw Ridge, 99 Homes), Adam Driver (アダム・ドライバー; While We’re Young, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and a Japanese cast that is nothing short of prominent contemporary actors, such as Satou Tadanobu (Satō Tadanobu; 佐藤 忠信・さとう ただのぶ; Thor series, 47 Ronin), who replaced Watanabe Ken (渡辺 謙・わたなべ けん; Letters from Iwo Jima, The Last Samurai, Godzilla) and Tsukamoto Shinya (Tsukamoto Shinya; 塚本 晋也・つかもと しんや; Tetsuo series, Shin Godzilla), cult actor and filmmaker in person.

The above trailer, the years of concocting the story by Scorsese and the starring crew make indeed for a promising work to come to screen. Some sources call it already epic (oh in gods name what a world of superlative we have become, just to claim the news?!) or a veritable Oscar contender for the next Academy Awards season, but let’s see first, before we scream it into the heavens. For me personally, I haven’t been to the movies in about 2 years – way too long -, but this one, I’m really looking forward to with great anticipation because of all the studies I have made on the subject. I hope it finds the way into my region, so I will be able to see it on the big screen。。。お願いします 🙏。

Setting & Story

The film takes the audience to Japan in the year 1639 (Edo Period 1603-1868; 江戸時代・えどじだい), 25 years after the ban of the foreign religion on national scale by the Tokugawa Regime (徳川幕府・とくがわばくふ; last feudal Japanese military government governed by the Tokugawa family clan) and 1 year after the bloody smash of the Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱・しまばらのらん; 1637-38). Prosecution of Christians, who were invariably Roman Catholics, was executed in a systematic and brutal manner. Suspects were confronted with the Fumi-e (踏み絵・ふみえ; literally translated to ‘step-on picture’, a brass icon showing an image of Christ). Those refusing to trample on the idol of Christ, were imprisoned and to be tortured by unthinkable ways such as the Water Crucifixion (Mizuharitsuke = jap. 水磔・みずはりつけ; exposed to the elements until perished by drowning) and the feared upside-down Suspension over the Ordure Pit (Anazuri = jap. 穴吊り・あなずり). Prosecutors were in particularly eager to turn foreign priests that were smuggled in from abroad and went underground to teach to hidden communities since the ban in 1614.

One such priest was Father Cristóvão Ferreira (played in the movie by Neeson), who was apprehended in 1634 and successfully brought to abandon his religious convictions by authorities. Word reached Europe that the so zealous Father Ferreira, then head of the Jesuits in Japan, committed the disgraceful act of publicly renouncing the faith to god. After a first expedition to reclaim Father Ferreira failed, a second perilous undertaking started with the two Portuguese priests by the names Sebastião Rodrigues (main lead played Garfield; imaginary character modeled after the real-life Italian apostate Giuseppe Chiara) and his fellow missionary, Francisco Garrpe (Driver), who hoped to bring light into the unimaginable rumors of their former mentor and to pursue him to withdraw from his recantation. They would re-establish him or die in the process to become longed for martyrs – this is what they were destined for.

However, also their attempt fared no better, with them being captured soon after setting foot into the land. Like Ferreira before them, they were brought before the authorities and there, finally they would meet their revered teacher, who meanwhile changed to the Japanese name of Sawano Chuuan (Sawano Chūan; 沢野 忠庵・さわの ちゅうあん), but in the role of their own interrogator. While trying to establishing the truth about their spiritual mentor, they embark on a dangerous travel into isolated Japan, but as they become witness of the suffering and death of the local populace because of the faith, doubt preys their mind, whether it’s right to have others suffer for their own personal glory of martyrdom. But will they break their stoic silence in the watch of others’ suffering?…

…not wanting to spoil anybody’s anticipation for the film, including my own 😉, I don’t dig any further into the story, but stick to the maxim of speaking is silver, silence is gold. However, for those with further interest on the subject, I like to take a moment about some related literature, which you might want to look into. Stay on, it’s reading time📚📖 !

Related Read – A Book Introduction

I tried myself on book reviews previously, but those were more in regard to Japanese language. Now I like to pick up one written in English, yet this one will not be as detail and is more an introduction for readers, who seek additional sources on Christianity in Japan. It’s a book I read after i made my personal research with my Shimabara Rebellion article. The name of the book I’m referring to, as also seen in the image, is the title In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians (ISBN-13: 978-4805313565) written by Kyoto based british professor John Dougill and published by Tuttle Publishing. In it you will find also reference to the novel ‘Silence’, thus makes a good complementing read on the matter:

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This is the hard cover version of the book, which was first published in 2010, just about as I was to journey out to Japan myself. The front cover shows the statue of Amakusa Shirou (天草 四郎・あまくさ しろう; designated leader of the Shimabara Rebellion), in whose background stands the attractive white main keep of the Shimabara Castle (島原城・しまばらじょう).

I finally got down to read the book a few weeks ago. Long it had lied dormant on my chest of drawers near the bed for nightly readings because I simply lacked the time and the quite. The teaser of ‘Silence’ though, brought me then about the idea to share it with this post.

As some might assume, the book is far from a dry history record. It is also no fictional work as they also exist about the topic, but a personal journey by professor Dougill, more like a travel diary as he goes around the country to unearth little known material from the past to the present about Christianity and the dwindling community of Hidden Christian (Kakure Kirishitan・隠れキリシタン) in Japan. One of the venues him to visit, was the idyllic Sotome (外海・そとめ; a town that used to be independent, but is now a district of the greater city Nagasaki), a coastal town closely related to ‘Silence’ as Endou sought it out for the setting of his celebrated story. Also there, one will find the Endou Shuusaku Literary Museum (遠藤周作文学館・えんどうしゅうさくぶんがくかん) that is devoted to the writer’s life and works that surround his own struggle with the religon – he was a Christian, too. The Sotome chapter, which is number 9 of total 12, has then an emphasis on the topic, whereby also Scorsese’s connection and work in process are mentioned.
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John Dougill made a great job by summarizing all the major events with researched facts that he balanced out well with interesting comparisons and personal stories of his discoveries. The book leads readers from the first encounter of the religion with the arrival of Portuguese Saint Francis Xavier (フランシスコ・デ・ザビエル; co-founder of the Society of Jesus) to Japan in 1549 to the prolific years of the mission with up to 300’000 converts, followed by the years of persecution with the peak in the Shimabara Rebellion, all the way through the centuries until the wondrous resurgence of Hidden Christians in Nagasaki at the Ooura Church (大浦天主堂・おおうらてんしゅどう・Ōura Tenshudō) in 1865. With the book you cover a lot of ground and with his eloquent writing, it makes an informative and entertaining read.
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I really liked to follow the stories of professor John Dougill, reminded it me much on my own travels of the beaten track in Japan. It kind of stirred my wonderlust that like the book has been lying dormant for the years. It’s something I liked to do during my limited stay in Japan, but have not done enough, I become aware of once again. But while my next trip has to wait, I could follow the professor’s tracks, which I greatly enjoyed and appreciated. It’s an excellent and compelling story that leads through the many stages, the up and downs of the religion, in this topsy-turvey country of Japan, in which ‘swamp’ the flower of Christianity was not meant to flourish, as Endou Shuusaku would word himself. If you are up to the movie, I highly recommend you to read this book, which will enhance your understanding of the time and therewith the cinematic experience. I hope that you could enjoy both, the movie and the book 😊.

The book, along with Endou’s ‘Silence’ and other titles touching the subject of Christianity in Japan, you can get at amazon.co.jp (for how to, see my side page). The links I arranged subsequently, check it out:

1.)                                      2.)                                        3.)

  

1.) In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christian by John Dougill (English)
2.) Silence by Endou Shuusaku (English)
3.) Silence by Endou Shuusaku with introduction by Martin Scorsese (English)
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Other related titles:

4.)                                      5.)

 

4.) Christ’s Samurai by Jonathan Clements (English)
5.) The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan by Stephen Turnbull (English)
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If you read any of the books, please feel free to share your views in the comments below. Also if you have some feedback about the article, I would be delighted to hear from you. Till next time and thanks for visiting my page.

Article Guide:

  • Words in yellow green color link to other articles/pages on MyLittle Dejima
  • Words in green color link to external references/pages
  • Words in simple bold, titles and article relevant information without external reference/page
  • For Japanese related words Hiragana (ひらがな), Katakana (カタカナ) and Kanji (漢字) are added for those interested in Japanese terminology

Edition: First release: December 6th, 2016

©MyLittle Dejima

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