I’m subscribed to a few Japanese culture and literature listservs. Topics that fellow subscribers post about range from arcane vocabulary in the Kojiki 古事記 to problems facing today’s humanities programs.
Just today I saw a post by Achim Bayer, an Associate Professor at Kanazawa Seiryo University 金沢星稜大学. The post advertised an essay that he has recently written and made available for free online about Martin Scorsese’s film Silence. Scorsese’s film is based on the Japanese author Shūsaku Endō’s 遠藤周作 (1923-1996) novel Chinmoku 沈黙 (1966). The essay is titled “Necessary Reflections on Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”: Religious Violence in the Seventeenth Century, as Seen from Japan.” It’s a short read, but full of pertinent information regarding the state of world in which Silence is set. And, while Bayer wrote this essay in response to Silence, the information is also to germaine to another of Endō’s novels, The Samurai (Samurai 侍, 1980).
In the article Bayer seems to be criticizing the film (and by extension, the novel) for not portraying the ugly affairs happening in other parts of the world in which Christians were involved. (see Dr. Bayer’s cordial comment below about my interpretation of his article.) He mentions Spain’s conquering of the Philippines and the bloody 30 Years’ War–two “current events” that Bayer claims the Japanese shogun (who was the military, de facto ruler of Japan) knew fully about. Understanding the historical background is important for understanding any text, I would argue. But I do not think Endō was purposefully leaving out key information (such as the role played by missionaries in conquering lands), I think he was just a guy trying to write a novel. I do not think the novel makes the Japanese warlords or the missionaries look like the villains, nor do I think it makes them look like the heroes. The novel is simply a commentary about a historical event in Japan.
I was really excited to see a Japanese novel make it to the big screen in America–not only make it to the big screen, but be a masterpiece–so I have posted about Silence in the past here and here. Bayer’s essay covers information that I did not address in my previous posts.