Silence, the Novel by Shusaku Endo (left) and the Movie directed by Martin Scorsese (right).

Preliminary note

Now that I’m back with this blog, I might as well get into the old groove once again. My favorite, “bestselling” topics and themes — such as research, movies, books, sports, reading, poetry, spirituality, and so on (all always connected with youth ministry) — have been on cold storage. Surely they’re all now waiting to be revisited and picked up again.

For (re-)starters, I’d like to go back to the novel-movie <em>Silence</em>. I do have something long since written about it, and all this time it was just brewing and fermenting like good coffee or wine. Being a lengthy read, I shall post it now here as a two-part series.

 

Silence – Part 1

Finally, after several attempts (mostly marked by tough efforts), I get to write something about Silence. It’s been a while, in fact, since I haven’t written anything at all about movies here in my blog. Anyway, this entry now goes even a step forward. I wish to look at Silence both as novel (written by Shusaku Endo), first and foremost; and then, also as movie (directed by Martin Scorsese).

First and foremost, let me admit the irony: despite so much build-up and anticipation on my part, I was cold and unaffected when the movie came out. To this day, I still don’t understand why. I first came across the famous Shusaku Endo novel way, way back. That was still when I was in my theology studies for the priesthood. I don’t recall how I first heard or read about it. Basta: before I knew it, the copy of the novel in the DBCS Library was already in my hands.

Then through the years I kept in touch, as it were. A particular milestone was in a seminar I took up during my licentiate studies in Rome (sometime in 1994, I think), under the great professor Angelo Amato (now a Cardinal, in-charge of the causes of saints). The topic was on Contextual Christologies, and fittingly we were of different nationalities. A Japanese confrere (a young Salesian seminarian) back then reported on Shusaku Endo’s Deep River. Then, years afterwards, I read about the long-standing plan (and the great effort) of director Martin Scorsese to adapt Silence for the silver screen. I thought to myself: now, we’re in business. And you can bet I had been eagerly following every bit of news about it.

Actually, apart from the preceding personal history of my “encounter” with Endo/Scorsese and Silence, I recognize that so much has already been written about the matter. I dare not add anything much. Let me just dig up something I wrote in the recent past. I wrote the following passage several months ago (last July 2016, to be exact). Back then, news of the Scorsese movie’s imminent release was already raging. For my part, I decided that I wouldn’t dare watch the movie version until I re-read the novel.

And I did exactly that. As a sort of personal preparation before watching the movie, I really determined to read the novel again first. So here then is what I first wrote after that:

I have finished reading (or, more exactly, re-reading) the religious-historical novel Silence by Shusaku Endo. I said to myself, I had better read it soon, before the movie version of the celebrated novel hits the multiplexes here. I succeeded.
 
I am a firm believer that movie versions generally (apart from a few exceptions) are not able to hold up against the novel. Besides, reading the novel gives you in your mind your own movie — not Hollywood’s, not from the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay, not anyone else’s.
 
And now because of that, it’s like I am suffering. The harrowing horror and suspense of the novel (regarding the 17th-c. Japanese persecutions against the Catholic Church, specifically against Jesuit missionary Sebastian Rodrigues — who has his own faith struggles) is heavy to bear. Even if it is merely fictionalized, it is just as real and horrific. Endo has been called the Japanese Graham Greene. Yes, the author is very much Japanese, and also Catholic. He had his own struggles in his acceptance and actualization of his Catholic faith. And it shows in his writing, especially in his plot development.
 
Good thing there is redemption at the end of Silence. In a crafty plot twist (no spoilers here), I was tricked into believing that there was none.
 
Moreover, the historical realism in Endo’s Silence has made me think twice and many times about martyrdom — something which we may have much too glamorized and romanticized. Actually there are a few films which give us such a portrayal of the horrors of martyrdom. Among these is an old film (I remember watching it in our Canlubang days, with those old 16-mm projectors with the reels borrowed from the Canadian embassy), Mission of Fear. The other one about the French Trappist martyrs in Algeria, Of Gods and Men, is also profoundly excellent.
 
Now I am worried about Silence the movie. Director Martin Scorsese is a brilliant filmmaker, no doubt, but judging from his body of work I am almost certain that he will highlight the violence (for sure along with the blood and gore). More importantly, it worries me how he will handle the theological-spiritual undertones of the novel.

Read the Conclusion

 
MartYM or Fr. Martin Macasaet, SDB, SThD is a professor of Youth Ministry. He received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome.

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