Asia Films

The Silence – A Review


This was a film that I did not want to go and see.  I knew it was long, violent and difficult.  But I had to. I have read so much about it and such contrasting and extreme reviews that I went (alone) to watch it this afternoon.  Its….

Brilliant – It lasts over two and a half hours but for me it did not feel like that.  The cinematography was wonderful,  as was the acting (especially that of Issey Ogata, Tadanobu Asano, Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield).  The scenery, plot, tension and the way the most serious questions are raised, all make The Silence worthy of oscars.

Unusual – The last Scorsese film I saw, The Wolf of Wall Street,  was so bad, that I stopped watching.  If I want to see animals rutting I’ll go to a farm, not a cinema.   I knew that the violence would be difficult to watch in this one (shouldn’t it always?) but it was really the theme and the seriousness with which the questions are tackled which makes it so unusual.  Who wants to go and see a film about the persecution of Christians in 17th Century Japan?    And who really wants to think about the big questions of faith, apostasy and religious relativism?  Me!

Depressing – This is not an easy film to watch.  And you don’t leave the cinema feeling good.  Its a tough one – not just because of the graphic violence (not as bad as I thought) but because it is so sad.  It makes you despair of humanity, with or without religion.  And whatever happened to Buddhism – you know that peaceful, nonviolent religion?  Any Buddhist watching this should be embarrassed!   I loved the scene where the Inquisitor says that ‘to help others is the way of the Buddha.  We don’t need to win over others’, just before torturing people to try and win them over!

Frustrating – Because despite his best efforts Scorsese just doesn’t quite get the Good News.  He comes up with some great questions – but doesn’t get the Good News answers.

The questions are great – ‘why must their trial be so terrible and why when I look in my own heart do answers seem so weak?”.    Is there a danger that we cling to the signs of faith rather than the faith itself?   What have I done for Christ?  What will I do for Christ?   God heard their prayers, but did he hear their screams?  The weight of your silence is terrible, am I just praying to nothing?

The concept of religious relativism keeps raising its head.  The argument is given that Christianity is European and just cannot take root in Japanese soil.  The argument is that the soil is not suitable to which the priests initial response is that the soil has been poisoned.    I think this argument is proved wrong in two ways – one historical and one theological.   The historical one is that Christianity did take root in Japan and despite the fierce persecution from the 17th Century onwards there have always been Japanese Christians.   The first adult I baptised in St Peters was a Japanese student, Fumiko.   I think of Osaumu Nakahashi, a wonderful Japanese church leader, or Masaaki Suzuki, the world’s foremost Bach interpreter who is a Japanese Presbyterian!   (I will post an interview we did with him later on).

The theological argument is simple.   The notion that some people are more naturally inclined to believe the Gospel doesn’t really fit with the Gospel itself.  The Bible teaches us that we are all dead in sins and trespasses and we need regeneration before we can even see the Kingdom of God.   “mountains and rivers can be moved but mans nature cannot be moved”. Indeed not by man.  But that is where the Holy Spirit comes in.  The Gospel is never defeated by the hardness of mans heart or the swamp of any culture.  The Word of God always brings fruit.

Likewise with the whole question of witness and what they call ‘Korobu’ – apostasy.  Can believers be kept?  Can they outwardly turn away but inwardly hear the voice of God?  Again Scorsese misses the crucial role of the Holy Spirit – and that the blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of the church, throughout the world.  Its not just that we have a hope for heaven – although the picture of the Japanese peasants longing for a heaven where there is no more sickness, hunger, hard work or taxes! is a beautiful one.

But in other respects Scorsese shows he gets the heart of the matter – most notably in the emphasis on the cross and the notion that sometimes it is not that God is silent – it is more that we are not listening.   “it was in the silence I heard your voice’.   I just wish that he had read Schaeffer’s He is There and He is Not Silent”  before he made the film!  Nonetheless it is a brilliant film and I’ve just ordered the book on which it is based – The Silence by the Japanese Catholic writer – Shusaku Endo.

One final thought if you think Christianity is what can I do for Christ?  Or what can I suffer for Christ?  you will miss the main point and asking the wrong question.  First ask – what has Christ done for me?   He has not been silent.  He is not silent.  He spoke on the Cross and he still speaks to us today through his Word.   Are we listening?

For another review read Krish Kandiah’s excellent one in Christian Today

For the impact on Andrew Garfield read This

Marks  – 7/10


  1. I was literally going to ask you in the comments of your next post to do a review on this film, as I just saw it last night and the film has been haunting me all day. Luckily, I didn’t have to ask. I thought the film was brilliant and extremely gripping. The inner turmoil of the priests is something I myself have dealt with and I am sure many others do as well. I had never heard of this persecution until I saw the previews for this film, so it has enlightened me to this particular time in history, as well.

    The unanswered questions are very difficult to deal with though. Also, how would I have handled this as the priest? As the Japanese lay person? Does Christ understand the apostasy? How much am I like Kichijiro, pitifully turning my back on Christ and returning for forgiveness? Is a “silent” Christianity, even Christianity? Just as in Japan at that time, how do the elites today try to keep Christianity subdued, confusing, and something meant to be private?

  2. the same thought occurred to me on reading this as on your assessment of Meryl Streep as a performer:
    How wonderful exactly is it, to be a wonderful actor?
    Is it a profession Christians ought to have esteem and admiration for?
    It’s a real question. I don’t have the answer ready worked out, though I do have a knee-jerk uneasiness about applauding someone for pretending convincingly to be someone else 🙂

  3. While I abhor the depiction of blood and gore and blood lust in the “arts” for it’s own sake, strangely, it can more affecting than real life news stories that show the depravity of man but at the same time through it’s proliferation inures to the it’s horror and to the sanctity of human life created in the image of God.

    I’m not sure how actors can not be affected, particularly as they “get into character” in method acting.

  4. Yes, I struggled with the idea of outwardly turning away but inwardly hearing God. Or Jesus telling to be apostate which also happened in the film.

    What seems more real to me is Jesus denying anyone to the father who denies him. Then being leaft with making a choice out of approval of man or approval of God. Of chosing whether to fear what man can do or fear God.

  5. Thank you for that review. Very useful. I think the film and the book must be essentials for me whenever I can afford them. Not easy watching clearly but sounds like it has to be watched. I must admit I am not sure what I think about this ‘hard ground for Christianity business’. When I was a member of the FC I heard stories of children (of FC
    Christians) in the Western Isles being convicted and convinced that they were the worst sinner in the world at maybe 6 years old and so converted. I think our minister told us he was 8. To be honest I was sceptical, but those people were without doubt Christians, active and prominent in the FC. Easier in the Western Isles than Japan though surely? I don’t mean the persecution but the cultural milieu. And yet, as you state, Christianity never died in Japan. And look at the Church in China and in Africa! Does God make some places harder in order to give us a message? I am also a sceptic regarding ‘compassionate’ Buddism. The disabled are so because they were bad in a previous life!

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