The historical thriller starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson is out on 23 December
Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, sheds light on Japan’s “hidden Christians” in the 17th Century and stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson.
Based on the 1966 historical novel by Shūsaku Endō of the same name, the plot sees Jesuit Portuguese priests in search for their former mentor during the shogun-era in Japan. Whilst the characters and storyline are largely fictional, the novel and film shed light upon the historically accurate persecution of Christians in Japan during the 17th Century and the Portuguese missionaries who risked their lives to spread the word of God, birthing the term ‘Kakure Kirishitans’ – the ‘Hidden Christians’.
Scorsese’s adaptation sees Portuguese Catholic priests Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) tracking down their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who was captured and tortured for apostasy.
Whilst the film won’t be in cinemas until 23 December 2016, early reviews have largely praised Scorsese’s latest efforts. Rolling Stone awarded the film 3.5/4, calling the movie “essential filmmaking from the church of Scorsese”. Variety described the Scorsese epic as a “challenging, yet beautiful spiritual journey”. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a whopping 97%, whilst USA Today ran with the cheesy but snappy headline “Martin Scorsese’s religious ‘Silence’ is golden”.
So it seems Scorsese has once again knocked the ball out of the park with this faith-driven religious epic. However, one reviewer was not at all impressed with Scorsese’s latest effort, slamming the Hollywood veteran for promoting the white saviour complex.
The Daily Beast writer Jen Yamato titles her review “‘Silence’: Scorsese’s Flawed, Frustrating White Savior Tries to Save Japan From Itself”. “The legendary filmmaker’s latest follows a Jesuit priest preaching the gospel to persecuted Japanese Christians, but is far more concerned with his agony than that of the ‘other’,” writes Yamato.
“The spiritual struggle quietly raging within one white savior out of water in feudal Japan is a frustrating journey to take—and an ardent story about cultural imperialism and Western arrogance that doesn’t recognize its own,” Yamato adds.
It’s a brutal attack on the film that highlights the importance of upholding cultural heritage in filmmaking, which Yamato claims Scorsese fails to do. “By filtering Endō’s complex moral conflict into a work of spiritual tourism Scorsese selfishly works out his own questions of faith, using Endō’s text to do it—while ignoring the cultural context that makes his Japanese-ness matter.”
As a Scorsese fan myself, it’s disappointing to read that the directing legend would succumb to such cultural ignorance and to some extent. Nonetheless, Yamato provides an important, all be it cynical view on the film and one which we must consider when watching the film.
Scorsese has ticked the boxes in terms of drawing upon an original Japanese novel so he can’t be blamed too much for the plot line. The lead characters in the original novel were Portuguese, so it seems fitting that caucasian actors were cast for these roles. Scorsese has also ticked boxes for casting Japanese actors to play Japanese characters (a refreshing casting choice in today’s climate). However, can he criticised for focusing too much on the dilemmas of his ‘white’ characters and ignoring the Japanese cultural context in which they find themselves? It’s a hard balance to find and whilst most main stream film reviews will recognise Silence as a powerful and moving film, critiques from the East Asian community may be less convinced by Scorsese’s efforts in capturing the authentic culture.
Silence hits theatres on 23 December 2016