A movie is coming out in global release in the next few weeks. It will be disturbing, and should be one that causes deep thought. It is titled simply Silence, and is based on a novel of the same name by Japanese writer Shusako Endo. It is always a risk to recommend a movie you haven’t seen, but I’m going out on a limb this time, based on my love for Endo’s writings and particularly his novel Silence. (If you haven’t read Endo before, please do so! After Silence I would recommend Scandal but really any of his other novels as well. He also put the four Gospels into a form for the Japanese mind, called The Life of Jesus.)
Silence tells the story of a European missionary who arrives in 17th century Japan to share about Jesus Christ. There have been communities of Christians there in the past, but in this period Christianity is banned under the Shogun rulers. As this missionary faces torture for his faith, it results in his agonizing crisis of doubt of what he believes. In the movie version, directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, the leading character is played by Liam Neeson. Scorsese had read Endo’s novel many years ago, and perhaps in an identification with Endo’s Catholic faith, was highly impressed by the novel. His quest to turn the novel into a movie took over 20 years.
The suffering that the missionaries go through in Japan was surpassed by what the Japanese Christians faced. The result is that after the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Christians were called Kirishitan, they were then called Kakure Kirishitan, or Hidden Christians.This was because after the great persecutions and massacres they suffered, many of them went into hiding. This hiddenness lasted for centuries, and as recently as 2003 there were about 1,000 of them left in Japan in remote islands. It is fascinating to read of the nature of their Christian faith after so many centuries of isolation. It also raises of course questions as to what that faith consisted of, and what it did not. I will post more on this in the coming weeks.
The novel Silence, (and hopefully the movie will as well), probes deeply the role of doubt and failure in religious faith. Suffering is an integral part of the spiritual journey. In the Christian faith, the revelation of what happened on the Cross to Jesus and how it affects us today is central. Yes, as Christians we believe there was a resurrection of Christ from the tomb. But suffering remains at the core of being faithful to the Gospel message. (or even in our unfaithfulness, as the book brings out). Yes, the forgiveness of 0ur sins should bring great joy, and an increasing sense of freedom and victory. But that is different than an easy-going “triumphalism” that costs nothing and is based perhaps in a culturally acceptable faith.
The Japanese Christians and the missionaries who served there suffered unspeakable tortures. Some of them denied their faith under that suffering. Yet even in that apostasy, it raises questions as to what the grace and mercy of God means in that context. These are some of the questions that Endo addresses in his book.
I hope you go to see the movie. Even better try to read the book first. If you do either, please let me know what you think after. I will post again about Silence and the Hidden Christians of Japan soon.