The history of Christianity in Asia is marked by terrible suffering and persecution, mixed with power, corruption, ignorance, prejudice, cultural suspicions, terrible mistakes, acts of great  generosity and sacrifice. Some of the fiercest persecution was in Japan – after the success of the initial journeys of St Francis Xavier.  The story of the   martyrs of Japan is powerful and it should be known by a wider audience…….

Well hopefully it will be thanks to two men, award-winning Japanese author Shusako Endo and one of the greatest film directors of all-time, Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has announced his next project will be a film based on Endo’s classic novel  Silence.   Scorsese as a young man seriously considered the priesthood, even entering the seminary.  Now, having married 5 times he recently said –  “I’m a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic, there’s no way out of it.  You do not have to look  hard at many of his films to see the Catholic influence.

The novel is based on the historical figures of three Jesuits –  and at the center of the story is the infamous Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira, who was the head of the Jesuit mission in Japan.  Ferreira was captured and committed apostasy after being tortured for five hours. The tortures for Christians were terrible often being hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled unless they denied the faith – often by publicly trampling on a crucifix.  Ferreira became the most famous of the “fallen priests”, converting to Shintoism, changing his name and writing a book entitled The Deception Revealed in 1636(a treatise against Christianity). He also participated in government trials of other captured Jesuits.  This was a great scandal and shame to many Christians.  Two young Jesuits were sent to Japan to succor the local Church and investigate reports that his mentor,  and if possible ‘bring him back’.

Having read the novel about twenty years ago, it has, according to Scorsese himself, “given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art.”  Daniel-Day Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal are all reported to have major roles locked down.In a forward to a recent edition of the novel – Scorsese explains his fascination   “How do you tell the story of Christian faith? The difficulty, the crisis, of believing? How do you describe the struggle? … [Shusaku Endo] understood the conflict of faith, the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience……. Questioning may lead to great loneliness, but if it co-exists with faith – true faith, abiding faith – it can end in the most joyful sense of communion. It’s this painful, paradoxical passage – from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion – that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully and beautifully in Silence.

I hope that the film is made.  Roland Joffe (The Mission) – had been working on a script about the life of St Ignatius but disappointingly put it to one side to make the recently released There be Dragons, about the life of Opus Dei founder St Jose Maria Escriva.  I hope this project sees the light of day – until then Endo’s masterpiece  is available for purchase here on Amazon.  Join me on GoodReads  as I work my way through it!