SILENCE

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In the early 17th century, two Jesuit priests enter Japan when Christianity was strictly forbidden in an attempt to locate their missing mentor and to spread the message of Catholic Christianity.

Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, was the director’s 25-year-long passion project finally brought to fruition in 2016. Across the board, the movie’s length was criticized (161 minutes) and complaints about the often plodding pace abounded amid declarations of “ambitious” and “gorgeous.”

I enjoyed the movie myself. I suppose it did tend to drag in places because it was so long. But the acting was layered and textured, surrounded by a gritty and grueling environment suffused with constant anxiety, mystery, and misunderstanding.

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After Shusaku Endo’s mother divorced his father, she converted to Roman Catholicism, and Shusaku followed suit, turning down a path not designed for the weak-hearted. During World War II, Endo was the focus of intense resentment due to his loyalty to what was viewed as the religion of Japan’s enemies. When studying in France after the war, the author suffered racial discrimination by fellow Christians in Europe.

Others have said that he is…

“almost by default … ‘a Japanese Catholic author’ struggling to ‘plant the seeds of his adopted religion’ in the ‘mudswamp’ of Japan. In the stage version, The Golden Country, an official also says: “But the mudswamp too has its good points, if you will but give yourself up to its comfortable warmth. The teachings of Christ are like a flame. Like a flame they set a man on fire. But the tepid warmth of Japan will eventually nurture sleep.”

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Sharp right turn to director Martin Scorsese. Due to severe asthma, Scorsese turned to movies (no surprise) and becoming an altar boy while growing up in New York. Tardiness and roughhousing got him kicked out of the altar boy gig, but his desire and passion for the church obviously remained. He is quoted as saying: “When one has a vocation, does it have to be clerical? Can’t you act out those tenets of whatever you believe in your own life without wearing a priest’s collar?”

That question is aimed toward the priests who apostatized in “Silence,” the act of stepping on a likeness of the Virgin Mary or Christ, or a fumie, to renounce their faith (either due to torture and/or to save others). The question arises whether or not one can take part in such an action but still retain their faith. Scorsese was evidently aiming the question at himself, too, having been ejected as an altar boy and not ever gaining any official capacity within the Church.

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Coming from a spiritual bent and not from organized religion, I still think the answer is absolutely. That the lack of a collar or robe or four walls or even announcing that you no longer believe in no way, shape, or form diminishes what the heart knows or what cultivates the soul. Easy to say today, I know, when we’re so far removed from earlier times when faith was the beginning and the end and there was no gray in between.

But what of the swamp Endo talks about, referring to Japan as a mudswamp incapable of bearing the fruit of Christianity, despite their rich tapestry of first Shintoism, then later Buddhism? The traditional missionary position of disregarding the particular beliefs of foreign cultures instead of studying them with a fascination bordering on awe that could only widen personal understanding and ultimately enrich the world at large, to me, is a tragic position, a wasteful slaughter of so much potential and promise.

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Eventually, though, Shusaku Endo, moved past the mudswamp into lighter, airier ground. As a 1995 L.A. Times article said:

“Deep River,” the author’s last novel, signals a healing of Endo’s inner split…His chief spokesman in the novel, the outcast Catholic seminarian Otsu, searches for “a form of Christianity that suits the Japanese mind” and concludes that Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists also have valid paths to God.

After God’s relentless, battering muteness in “Silence,” the message of Endo’s last novel is buoyant with inclusiveness and possibility, and so it makes perfect sense, considering the world of duality that we live in, a constant balancing of paradoxes–light and dark, up and down, good and evil–that he would be buried with two novels, and those two,  symbolic on so many levels of a strangely familiar struggle, one rife with silent abandonment, the other a deafening affirmation, were the two that were chosen.

24 thoughts on “SILENCE

      • I remember going to the theatre of this just full of…trepidation. Having read the book and having some idea of what I was in for. And yet…wow. It pulls off so many deep-thinking themes. I should really watch it again.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Fascinating post Seliza. I love Scorcese but this film crept under my radar. Deep River is now on my to-read list. Japan never ceases to fascinate. Murakami is my go-to author….and to see the cherry blossom in Kyoto remains a deeply-cherished aim. Thanks for shining some light on Japan’s Catholic forbearances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, t.b.f.o. I had to look Murakami up. What a face! Also the fact that among his genres are surrealism and magical realism–I love it. Now Murakami’s on MY list! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A great review but the subject matter causes more rage in Tubularsock than Jesus with the money changers!

    However as JC said to Tubularsock, “Forgive the mother fuckers for they know not what they do, so lets have a couple sakes for the road and hit the desert”.

    And there they spent an unknown amount of time until the the sun block began to run low. Amen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen, Tube. It’s an endless cycle. But ironically all cycles eventually come to an end. I bow humbly before your righteous anger. Peace out!

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    • Yeah, I think it basically bombed. Everyone told Scorsese not to tackle this but it was his passion, so I guess he kinda made it for himself. Starkly beautiful, though. But who has time for nearly 3 hours anymore?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This makes me recall another similarly themed movie featuring Liam Neeson, THE MISSION (1986). That was a long film as well (at 126 minutes not as long as 161 minutes of SILENCE but still, long enough) about a Jesuit priests’ attempts to convert an indigenous tribe to Christianity in southern Brazil back in the 18th century.

    Liked by 1 person

    • God, I know we saw that movie–we must have–but I can’t recall it off hand! We must have seen it in the ’80s! Eeeek. But yeah, there we go again. Why can’t the indigenous tribes just live their lives? Why the interference? It’s a silly question, I guess. Missionaries are on a mission, after all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you might know that I am a big movie buff, one of my favorite past times is to go to the Cinema and get lost on the big screen in the stories as they unfold and the artistry of it all – cinematography, directing, etc.

    I saw the trailer for SILENCE a few times, put it on my list and yet never got the opportunity to see it. So many movies, so little time. 😀 I am a huge fan of all 3 – Scorsese, Driver, and Garfield.

    I enjoyed the background info on Scorsese. I never knew his love for movies stemed from being holed up indoors because of asthma. Interesting! And SILENCE being his passion project, who knew? He has made scores of great films – CASINO and DEPARTED, are two of my personal favorites, who knew that his longest “passion project” would be one I haven’t seen yet.

    Great piece, Stacy, now SILENCE is a must see for me.

    P.S. Is your Stacey with or without the “E”. I have 2 friends that are Staceys, one spells her name with the “E”, the other, without.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks a lot, Rakkelle! Speaking of names, you’re actually Racquel, right? My name’s Stacey with an “e.”
    Anyway, whenever you get the time, I hope you can relax and enjoy it. I liked Casino too, plus Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, and most of Cape Fear, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oooh yeah, CAPE FEAR…OMG, the lawyer in me got scared 😱 with that one. LOL.

    When I first met my husband he used to watch GANGS OF NEW YORK on repeat, he was/is obsessed with that movie. I liked SHUTTER ISLAND but it doesn’t make my Scorsese top five. 🙂

    I have a thing with names. I like to get people’s names correctly – spelling and pronunciations. 😃 So, Racquel is the accurate spelling of my name but when I created my blog I was trying to be cute and put a little creative spelling on it so I go by either on this forum.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Haha, thanks, Racquel. Well, Rakkelle IS really cute, so you succeeded.
    And…omg is right! Your lawyer side watching Cape Fear……..! LOL
    No, no, no, no, no, right?! What they call “every lawyer’s nightmare” probably…….. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wonder how I hadn’t seen your compelling review until now! How you interwove Scorsese’s passion into the story was very enlightening Stacey. It’s another one of a hundred movies I must get a round to rewatching. Religion can get messy can’t it? The only other missionary style movie which I ever saw that ended well (unlike The Mission, Scorsese’s Silence and Peter Weir’s Mosquito Coast) was Frank Capra’s ‘Lost Horizon’ which I reviewed on my blog. I definitely recommend that movie if you don’t mind Capra’s sometimes saccharine flavour. Few movies demonstrate like Lost Horizon just how movies used to be made – a little bit of blood, sweat and tears.

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  9. Pingback: 219. The eye of the beholder – The Biscuit Factory

  10. I haven’t watch Scorsese movie yet, but its on my list, although many years ago I saw the original Japanese movie that impressed the hell out of me at the time, possibly in the late sixties, or early seventies.

    Thank you Stacey great review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you, Burning Heart. You’re welcome. I’m sure the original Japanese movie was something to behold. I’d like to see that one day.

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