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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Martin Scorsese's Silence

Jan. 27, 2017

Director Martin Scorsese has brought his new film to Japan -- Silence. He joined the Japanese cast for the premiere in Tokyo.

The movie is proving to be a standout around the world. It has received an Academy Award nomination for Cinematography.

It took nearly 30 years for Scorsese to be ready to make the film. It's based on a Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo about Christians in Japan forced to renounce their religion.

The story is set in the early 17th century, when Christianity was prohibited by the Shogunate to defend itself from being overwhelmed and eventually colonized by western countries.

This film was born as a result of the journeys of faith that both Scorsese and the author went through.

In the story, 2 young priests, Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe, set sail from Portugal to Nagasaki. They're on a mission to find out their mentor, Father Ferreira.

When they arrive, they find Japanese people believing in Christianity, despite facing persecution from the Shogunate.

Rodrigues: "How do you live? The danger is so great."

Mokichi:"We pray in secret."

The villagers were ordered to abandon their religion. Those who were discovered worshipping the forbidden faith were executed.

Kichijiro: "My whole family. The inquisitor Inoue wanted us to give us to give up our faith, stamp on Jesus with our foot. Just once, just fast. But they would not. But I did."

Rodrigues starts struggling with questions about his own faith. He wonders why God is observing this calamity in silence and doing nothing. Then he’s captured, along with other Christians, and told to renounce his religion.

Inoue: "It all depends on you whether they are set free, if you say just one single word. Show them. Deny your faith."

The novel that the film was based on was written by Shusaku Endo and published in 1966. The book was translated into more than 20 languages, and is still widely read, more than half a century later.

Director Martin Scorsese first came across the book about 30 years ago. He’s been trying to find a way to tell the story visually ever since.

"The story and the idea of the question of faith stayed with me and became more rich over the years, and became pretty much the only thing I was thinking about, and still am. And I felt that this was best I had read that portrays that conflict and portrays that question of faith. It seemed to be the purest in Endo's book," he says.

"I also read all of Endo over the years, and began to understand more about that and Japanese history. So for me, it's miracle that I got to make it, and I had no choice," he added.

His passion spread to the cast and crew. The Japanese actors delivered nuanced portrayals of both the oppressors and the oppressed.

Mokichi: "There can be in danger for everyone in the village. They can be put in prison, taken away forever. What should we do? "

Rodrigues: "Trample. Trample. It's all right. Trample. "

Garupe: "What are you saying? You can't. Mokichi. You can't."

Shinya Tsukamoto plays Mokichi, an oppressed Christian.

Tsukamoto is also a director. Like Scorsese, he's made many films depicting the darkness lurking deep within humanity.

Asked how he approached his role, he answered, "Mokichi is a devout Christian, and I’m not particularly religious. So, I had some difficulty immersing myself in his mindset. But being oppressed for your beliefs, and feeling hostility toward oppressors -- I could identify with him on those things."

He continues, "Every era has difficulties of that sort. I’m not saying that they're happening right now, but the possibility is always there. I think this movie should serve as a warning to the world. I could empathize with him in playing the role."

In the film, an interpreter for the local governor tells Rodrigues that Christianity is meaningless in Japan.

Interpreter: "You are ignorant, Padre. Only Christians would see Buddha simply as a man. Our Buddha is a being which man can become -- something greater than himself if he can overcome all his illusions. But you cling to your illusion, and call them 'Faith'."

Rodrigues: "No, you don't understand. If any man follows God's commandments, then he can live a peaceful and joyous life...."

Interpreter: "I do understand. Padre, it’s perfectly simple. Korobu. Have you ever heard that word? Korobu."

Tadanobu Asano plays the interpreter.

Asked how he approached the role, Asano responded, "He doesn't reveal any hints about his faith. I tried hard to understand why. My conclusion was he was once a very devout Christian. However, something caused him to lose his faith."

He continues, "He must have been feeling like this: 'I don't believe it anymore, but you doggedly keep on believing. Tell me why. Tell me what it is that you believe in. Teach me again.' Maybe that's why he oppresses those who refuse to recant -- to find someone who can tell him, what is to be believed?"

That is the question Shusaku Endo, the author of Silence, wanted answered, projecting his exploration onto the characters.

When Endo was 12, his mother had him baptized as a Catholic.

He described himself as someone “wearing an ill-fitting suit.” He questioned religion constantly.

That quest to understand true faith motivated him to become an author.

Silence is set in Sotome in Nagasaki. The area is home to the Endo Shusaku Literary Museum, which overlooks the ocean.

It contains about 30,000 items documenting the writer's life, including the manuscript for the novel.

Endo wrote Silence while struggling to find his own faith.

He revised it incessantly.

Close to the Museum is a monument that's inscribed with his words:

"Humanity is so sad, Lord, and the ocean so blue."

What is the meaning of God’s silence? It's a question that Endo never stopped asking.

A curator at the Endo Shusaku Literary Museum, Saori Kitamura, says, "While Endo didn't say it clearly, my guess is that he meant that everyone has some skepticism about faith. Doubting your beliefs is a universal tendency. It seems to me to be a symbolic expression of a pervasive human sentiment."

Scorsese says, "I do think the answer is there somehow in that silence. And after all we have to know about silence, because we come from silence. And that's where we go."

Rodrigues: "I pray but I'm lost. Am I just praying to silence?"


Newsroom Tokyo anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya discuss the film.

Beppu: I understand that the director has a lot of respect for the author.

Shibuya:That's right. Let me read you one of the segments Scorsese wrote for the introduction of Silence's latest edition.

"It has given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art. I leave you with Silence by the great Shusaku Endo."

The production is very true to the novel, and I think it's a homage to Endo.