Most Americans first experience Japan through the eyes of film, which makes films about Japan such an important part of our understanding of Japan. Next year, America’s most celebrated living director, Martin Scorcese, is set to release his own story about Japan. Best of all, the story is based on a beloved novel and it stars Ken Watanabe (渡辺 謙), one of the finest living Japanese actors.
Silence (沈黙, “Chinmoku") is a 1966 novel of historical fiction by Japanese Catholic author Shūsaku Endō. It is the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan, who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians") that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. The recipient of the 1966 Tanizaki Prize, it was written partly in the form of a letter by its central character; Half of the book is the written journal of the missionary Rodrigues, while the other half of the book is written either in the third person, or in the letters of others associated with the narrative. The book was strongly influenced by Endō's experience of religious discrimination in Japan as a Catholic, as well as his experience of racism in France, and his debilitating struggle with tuberculosis. The novel relates the trials of Christians and the increasing hardship suffered by Rodrigues.
The film covers the story of the introduction and eventual persecution of Christianity in feudal Japan. In 1549, when St. Francis Xavier and two companions first set foot in Japan, the nation was Buddhist; yet they were permitted to preach and teach, and the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in that country converted half a million people with the message of the Christian Gospel. Christian churches were visible throughout the land which had once held only Buddhist temples. Large numbers of laypeople joined their effort as catechists, and a local seminary was established to prepare native-born Christian men for the priesthood. But in the seventeenth century, the government reversed its policy of tolerance, and Christianity was banned. Japanese military officials violently rooted out Christians for persecution and execution.
The book has already inspired a film, an opera, and a symphony. Masahiro Shinoda directed the 1971 film Chinmoku, an adaptation from the novel. Composer and poet Teizo Matsumura wrote the libretto and music for an opera with the same title, which was premiered at the New National Theatre in Tokyo in 2000. The novel also inspired Scottish composer James MacMillan’s Symphony no. 3 “Silence", composed in 2002.
Then, in 2007, Martin Scorsese announced his intention to direct an adaptation of the book. He has reportedly been attempting to make the film for over 25 years, since first reading the book in 1989. The film will star Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata and Ken Watanabe. The film is currently in production and has been shooting in Taiwan.
The movie is set to be released in November of 2015.