Tag Archive: Shusaku Endo


360946-jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx‘This is a spiritual & cultural artefact’ – was how a producer at the BBC described Scorsese’s recent adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel ‘Silence‘.   A work of historical fiction, i.e based on real characters, about the Jesuits in Japan.  Having seen the film about a month ago, I tend to agree, although the cinema was fairly empty and I notice there is no ‘awards buzz’ about it – I think it will grow in stature and popularity.  I hope it will slowly acquire cult status, it doesn’t have the feel-good, crowd pleasing appeal that LaLa Land has ( and surely people need that in our fragmented times) …. but it has a depth and leaves a ‘haunting’ imprint that will mature over time. Like an artefact it will stand the test of time.

If you think about explicitly Christian films that have gone mainstream, all have differing levels of depth. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in its own way a masterpiece – has the force of a sledgehammer and I would place it in the Key Stage 3 RE category.  Roland Joffe’s The Mission, slightly more complex interweaving of theology / politics/ ecclesiology maybe would be GCSE, (Key Stage 4) Level.  But Scorsese’s Silence – is certainly A Level (KS5) material – with all its glorious and infuriating ambiguities. Leaving scope for discussion and meditation.

landscape-1482951700-martin-scorsese-silence-religion-on-filmHere in Manchester – many of the students are divided by it, and fascinating discussions ensue.  Some get hung up on the priests apostasy and a sense of betrayal from that, without taking into fact the incredible commitment and self-offering that have got the missionaries their in the first place. In a similar way many of the reviews are polarised.  The more secularised, the less they ‘get it’ – including one absurd review accusing it of ‘torture porn’ (I actually thought the film wasn’t as harrowing as I was expecting). It is as though the sheer fact that you can believe in something enough that you are prepared to die for it. is inconceivable to the more superficial reviews.  Many people (even the usually prescient Robert Barron)  seem to fixated on the ‘apostasy’ element. Which I think misses the point of the film (and the novel).  For me Kichijiro is the main character in the film – and it is God’s Mercy for him , through sacramental confession, this is the most powerful aspect for me.

silence-00977A former student sent me a wonderful email which expresses it like this, “I found myself really focusing on more in the film was the mercy of God, which I think is and should be the big focus within the film and book. The question: How much should I forgive my brother? Seventy seven.  Is something I often thought about when watching this film especially when witnessing Kichijiro continuously plead for confession. For me Fr. Rodriguez and Fr Ferreira are insignificant as for me really the true Christian is perfectly embodied in Kichijiro. As he is what a christian really is: a sinful and weak creature totally dependent on God’s mercy. Interestingly Kichijiro does not really seem to care about human respect or his reputation as seen by his continuous grovelling and humiliating display of weakness before the priest. To me I think the book and film do a great job in showing this about Kichijiro and the mercy of God; but seem to overlook it and get a bit too obsessed with somehow trying to justify someone’s apostasy.    The real question I think is how much are we willing to accept our weakness and plead for forgiveness

Maybe this is echoing Scorsese own life – as revealed in this fascinating interview with the America Jesuit James Martin,  his sense of rejection at a crucial age when he wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary. He was asked to leave the seminary, and ‘crushed’ in his own words,  and then his ‘pilgrimage’ slowly and painfully from the outside and back to God (?) . Jim has also written a very good  reflective piece on common questions people struggle with after Silence.   So is Silence really about about the Silence of God or the Deafness of Man? .




Is God Silent?


Wow – I have just finished reading Shusaku Endo‘s historical novel Silence.  I know that the story will stay with me for a long time. Powerful and haunting. I strongly recommend it as a good Lenten read.

Its main theme is the silence of God in the face of the terrible suffering of Japanese Christians in the face of a brutal persecution by their own government. However perhaps this is misleading. Without wishing to spoil the book,  if you read it carefully it seems that God is not silent – the main character having a few mystical experiences in which God’s presence, encouragement and love have a deep effect on him. So silent or not – maybe the question should be : Do we have the ears to be able to listen and recognise the divine – or are we’ God-deaf?’   In this way it reminds me of another excellent book I read a long time ago – Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

Cover of "Touching the Void"

Cover of Touching the Void

Like Silence this is also a true story, about a famous British Mountain Climber. Climbing with a friend in a remote part of the Andes – Simpson broke his leg – a almost fatal development in such a remote and harsh place. Needing to descend quickly with bad weather closing in and daylight fading  Simpson’s friend inadvertently lowered him off a cliff.  He could not see or hear Simpson; he could only feel that Simpson had all his weight on the rope. Simpson could not climb up the rope, and his friend could not pull him back up. It looked like they would both die so his friend had an excruciating ethical dilemma –  in the end he has to cut the rope in order to save his own life whilst almost certainly sending his friend to his death.  Simpson plummeted down the cliff and into a deep crevasse but amazingly survived – and having been given up for dead – he crawled back to base camp to arrive just as his friend was burning his clothes and getting ready to depart.

What intrigued me most about this book was that first night that Simpson spent on the ledge in the crevasse.  Staring death in the face Simpson said he touched the void that night – God seemed silent or indifferent and this experience became the basis of his atheism. It might seem to be incredibly presumptuous to disagree with this interpretation. Of course – Only Simpson was there on that terrible night. But by writing a book about it I think he allows us to share his experience in an intense and intimate way.  In his absorbing account of the subsequent events, it is clear that there are two voices in his head.  One telling him to give up – lie down – and let exhaustion and sleep takeover. But there is another voice that keeps urging him on – telling him to get up. maybe that was the voice of God – whether acknowledged or not. Voices of consolation and desolation, voices of death and life.

Both books are rated as classics – Silence in Japanese literature, Touching the Void in Mountain Literature.  A word of caution for Martin Scorsese who is working on a film version of Silence.  I think the book Touching the Void  is much better that the subsequent film was.

…… Of course Scorsese reads this blog!!