Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Set in the 17th Century, two Portuguese Jesuit Priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) are tasked with locating their master, Cristavao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has vanished after missionary work in Japan. In Japan, the two priests are victim to persecution and torture as Christain teaching is rejected in the country.

Since acquiring the rights to Shūsaku Endō’s novel, Martin Scorsese has struggled to get it to screen with the project entering development hell on a number of occasions. For thirty or so years it has become a passion project for the director and considering the themes of the film it’s not hard to see why. The film deals with subject close to the heart of Scorsese. A failed priest, Scorsese’s film examines the rigidness of one's faith when under the most testing circumstances. How important is one’s faith when facing severe adversity?

With Christians being persecuted and tortured, their faith is to be tested as they are forced to renounce their faith by desecrating religious symbols, but why is it important that the victims to renounce their faith? What does it bring to the captors? The renouncing of one’s faith damages one’s own pride and the way others perceive them. Take for example the disgust that both Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe hold for even the slightest notion that father Cristóvão Ferreira has renounced the ways of Christ. This is important because it perhaps explains why Sebastião Rodrigues fails to commit Apostasy even when others are suffering as a result of his actions, and they suffer because of his delusional pride and belief in his own seemingly unshakable faith.

As well as being about one’s resolve and conviction in their faith in the face of persecution, it’s also about the silence of God in times of extreme suffering. The prayers of those suffering are seemingly praying into silence due to the lack of a response from their god. Also prevalent to the discussion is the apparent selfishness and the imperialistic nature of Christianity and its desire to spread faith to the land of Japan. The arrival and preaching of Christianity is compared to hostile infighting of a husband’s four wives (the four wives being the colonial powers of Holland, Spain, England and Portugal) and it’s argued that the crusade to spread the word is responsible for all the suffering that has followed it. The history of Christianity and it’s own role in the persecution of heretics and non-believers is something that viewers easily cast their minds to as they draw parallels to the past when witnessing Christians suffer at the hands of the Japanese.

For fans of Scorsese’s work its probably best that you know that it isn’t a standard Scorsese film. Gone are the fluid camera movements and music, instead replacing it is more steady camerawork from Rodrigo Prieto whose work often captures the Taiwanese landscapes (doubling as Japan) in a shrewd and eerie mist and lingers long on the film's most brutal moments. It’s a stunning looking film, but not as showy as Scorsese's flashy previous works, almost as though Scorsese doesn’t want to detract any power from the story with stylised visual flourishes or obtrusive music. That’s not to say Rodrigo Prieto’s work isn’t anything short of sublime as the close up shots inside the tight enclosed spaces of a jail or obscured line of sight caused by the prison bars creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere which adds to the feeling of isolation and being surrounded by a hostile people.

Credit has to go to Andrew Garfield for his committed performance as Sebastião Rodrigues but his and his costar’s wobbly Portuguese accents (I seriously thought they were supposed to be Italian until it was mentioned they were in fact Portuguese ) required some work. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver (and Liam Neeson) may bring some mainstream appeal to the film, but it’s the unknown cast members who deliver better performances, particularly Tadanobu Asano (as the interpreter) and Issey Ogata's Inquisitor, whose menacingly calm performance is a highlight.

It’s a labour of love for Martin Scorsese and it becomes quite laboured viewing as we watch Andrew Garfield’s Sebastião Rodrigues and fellow Christians suffer greatly at the hands of Japanese Inquisitors. It’s a long watch (the film clocks in at just under 170 minutes) and it’s a tough film to stomach but it’s an interesting one, and Scorsese’s dissecting of the film’s key themes makes it a rewarding experience.


1 comment:

  1. I was wondering where they were supposed to be from too. I also assumed Italy from the trailer. I can't wait to see this. That's a hell of a run time but I can do that for Scorcese. Great review!