SILENCE: Scorsese Does Japan

In bringing SILENCE to the big screen, the legendary Martin Scorsese did something he hasn’t done in 20 years. The last time he both directed a movie and wrote the screenplay was CASINO. While neither effort was awarded back in 1995, most film critics seem to agree that CASINO was a great film. Given the subject matter, I don’t expect SILENCE to be as popular, but it’s still just as high quality despite being a significantly different film in many respects.


Based on the highly regarded novel by Shusaku Endo, the historically based story takes us to 1600’s Japan. Two priests travel to Nagasaki in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), whose correspondence letters stopped as reports arrived that he had renounced his faith under threat of persecution. Upon arriving, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) split up and work with the underground Christian communities to find their mentor. Along the way, their faiths are tested by a government which seeks to stamp out the religion in Japan.

The landscapes are breathtaking. The cinematography at work here deserves to be officially recognized, because nearly all the shots in the film are very artistically composed. The rocky hillside forests along the beach are the types of locations that help make going to the movies so rewarding. Even in scenes where horrible things are happening, or the conditions are harsh, these are places that just evoke a wow’ed response from those of us who have never been there.


The choice to go without musical accompaniment was somewhat bold on Scorsese’s part, but it was a good one. Although I wish it had been utilized more frequently, especially given the film’s name and the main theme of the movie’s second half, the times where there was complete silence felt powerful. Perhaps if the film had a score, the times where everything went silent might’ve had more impact.

The acting performances were really good. I’ve yet to see Andrew Garfield act in something where he didn’t seem to be giving himself entirely to the role. SILENCE is no different, except perhaps that it was a very meaty, emotion-filled part with plenty of opportunity for him to put his skills on display. There were great scenes where Father Rodrigues (Garfield’s character) had interactions with another actor, and others where he stood alone and captivated with his emotional monologues. I would not be surprised if he gets nominated for Best Actor here. I would certainly support that decision over what came forth from Casey Affleck in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.


In supporting roles, neither Liam Neeson nor Adam Driver had enough in the way of on-screen time to be lauded for their work. However, Issei Ogata should be recognized by the Academy Awards for his supporting role as Inoue Masashige. Going into a film about religious persecution, there are certain characteristics which come to mind when imagining the antagonist. What Issei brings to a very complex role makes for a great portrayal of a historic figure who wasn’t a stereotypical persecutor of Christians.


As someone who never studied the history of Japan (or much of Asia, for that matter), I found the topic very interesting, both because of the success Christians had in bringing their religion to Japan at a time before the United States was even founded, and because of the way in which the Japanese officials drove Christians into hiding as they tried to stomp out the belief system from their country. While I’m not surprised that Christianity took root in Japan, I figured it might’ve started there in the 1800’s or 1900’s due to the distance Christians would’ve had to travel to reach the island nation, and the traditionally non-Christian countries that act as somewhat of a border between Europe and East Asia.

While this is a phenomenal movie, I’m not certain if it’s the type of film that will appeal to mass audiences. Christians will likely appreciate it, as should those interested in history and those who like learning about different cultures. But if history isn’t something you enjoy studying, or you don’t much care for the plight of people persecuted for their religious beliefs, especially Christians, this movie probably wouldn’t hold their interest. For me, it really did.

My rating: 95 out of 100


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