While I was home in Philadelphia for the holidays, I want to see Martin Scorsese‘s new film “Silence.” The novel “Silence” (Chinmoku 沈黙) by Shūsaku Endō is quite well known to English speaking readers, both the casual reader and the Japanese lit-ophile. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I had not read the novel until only last year. Countless people had recommended it to me, but I had just never gotten around to it. Then, while I was perusing the shelves of a Sapporo bookstore on a snowy afternoon, the title jumped out at me and I bought it. It made for good reading while I was stuck in the airport on the way back to Akita!
The author, Shūsaku Endō 遠藤 周作 (1923-1996), was in a unique position for writing this novel: not only was he a Japanese author writing a novel about Japanese history, but he was also a Catholic writing about the Catholic experience in Japan. I’m not sure a non-Catholic Japanese author could have written such a wonderful book on the same topic, nor do I think a non-Japanese author could have accomplished such a vivid telling of this dark history. Being in the middle, Endō handled both the topic of this brutal Japanese history and the earnestness of Catholic missionaries with great sensitivity.
I saw the film with my father. He read both “Silence” (before I did!) and another of Endō’s novels, “The Samurai” (Samurai 侍). He is also a devote Catholic, whom I’d characterize not just as a blind sheep following the flock, but as someone who truly understands the deeply rooted philosophy behind his faith. After watching the film in Old City together, we had a nice conversation about the film. Although I’m back in Akita, he’s keeping the dialogue going by sending me this article written by James Martin, S.J.,:
Martin brought up many nice observations that I had not considered, and thus has added to my enjoyment of the film/novel. I’m grateful for that.
I am thrilled to see yet another Hollywood movie based on Japanese literature! I hope this film opens up more cross-culture dialogue and piques people’s interest in Japanese culture.
Oh yes, and the film is a MASTERPIECE.