How to make a movie in 28 years! This is how long it has taken the 74-year director, Martin Scrosese to bring a Japanese novelist’s masterpiece to the screen. Silence centres on the human capacity for suffering and redemption. It is the celebrated director’s 28-year journey to bring Shusaku Endo’s 1966 acclaimed novel to life. In Silence, the two faiths, church and cinema are intertwined in this epic drama. The film was premiered in Vatican City to a gathering of 200 Jesuit priests in November and released on 23rd December 2016.
The story follows two 17th century, Portuguese Catholic priests — Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) who travel to Nagasaki, Japan as part of the Jesuit proselytising effort. Their mission is to locate their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is rumoured to have committed apostasy and renounced his faith to become a Buddhist. The Japanese authorities have outlawed Christianity, viewing it as a foreign threat, and the priests are told that their mission will place them in great danger.
It was in 1549, that first seven Jesuits landed in Japan and planted a church that would swell to over 300,000 members within a generation. But the Japanese warlords grew wary of foreign influence, expelled the Jesuits, and made the Christians renounce their faith in a public display. This had to be done by stepping on a fumi-e, a bronze portrait of Jesus or Mary mounted on a wooded frame. Those who submitted were pronounced apostateChristians and set free. Those who refused were publicly executed.
Shusaku Endo was inspired to write Silence when on a visit to a Museum where he found a fumi-e from the seventeenth century, worn smooth by the thousands of Christians who had stepped on the symbol of their faith. Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, was first published in 1966 and endures as one of the greatest works of twentieth-century Japanese literature.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese recalls his meeting with Pope Francis, who gave him rosary beads and said, ‘Pray for me’.
“It was really moving. He blessed my wife and told me he hoped the film would bear much fruit. And I said, with his inspiration, yes”.
What is surprising about this film shows the failure of the Jesuit missionaries to sustain their Catholic faith in the face of persecution.
Silence has had a profound spiritual impact on me personally. The first book that I was ever given on my first day at school at the age of 10 in 1965 was the Bible, when I arrived in the UK. I still have the copy. My younger sister would go onto embrace Christianity and convert and today she is a Reverend. While I read the Bible, I have continued to draw on the faith of my birth as a Sikh, a credit to my Father and Mother for embracing a multi-faith family.
This is unlike the UK, where a recent YouGov poll for The Times has found an increase in the proportion of people who say that they actively do not believe in any God or higher spiritual power. This is further reflected in the fall in Church of England congregations, prompting a “renewal and reform” programme to bring people back to the Church.
But while the numbers of white Britons are deserting the Church, Britain’s black majority Churches are amongst the biggest and fastest growing. The Redeemed Christian Church, which I have come to know while living in Lagos, has over 800 places of worship in Britain with plans to open 100 more. Led by Pastor Agu Irukwu who grew up in Lagos, today leads the biggest RCCG church in Brent Cross, not far from my house in London, which attracts more than 2000 people to its Sunday services. In an interview for the Guardian newspaper in the UK, he said “we believe the nation paid a big price in bringing the gospel to far-flung parts of the world and we are working to bring the good news back to this country.” Others call it ‘reverse mission.’
How ironic, in Silence, the movie, we are taken on a journey of the Jesuits and Japanese who embraced Christianity who renounced their deepest beliefs or stayed silent, while the ‘reverse mission’ from Lagos is embarking on a radicle programme to attract white Britain’s to join its black-majority congregations.
Martin Scrosese is one of my all-time favourite filmmakers and I urge you to see Silence, to read Shusaku Endo novel of the same title and I also recommend Silence and Beauty: The Hidden Faith Born of Silence by the artist Makoto Fujimura.