Silence, written more than 50 years ago, was a major novel written by my father, Shusaku Endo. In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries make their way from Rome through Macao to Nagasaki. Christianity has been banned in Japan, but they encounter hidden Christians (kakure kirisutan) who have maintained their faith. Eventually, the Jesuit priests are captured and after being forced through considerable trial and tribulation, they are compelled to recant their faith by stepping on a fumi-e image of Christ. Throughout, God remains silent. This is the essence of the story, full of raw suspense in the first half that merges into deep reflection on God’s silence in the second half.
The story progresses at a speed and with a rhythm that is rare for a literary work but apparently highly suitable for film. It was first made into a film in Japan just four years after the book came out, and now, more than a half-century later, it has once again been adapted as a film.
The Endo family is pleased to see the most recent film version come to fruition. My father was first approached about the idea of making another film of his novel when he happened to be in New York some 20 years ago. Martin Scorsese came to see him there and spoke long and passionately about his desire to make the film. I remember my father telling me how impressed he was with Scorsese’s fervent request.
Ever since Taxi Driver, Scorsese has focused on the common theme of conflict between antisocial protagonists and the hard realities of society, and I think it is this fascination with the struggle between the weak and the strong that attracted him to the strange Christian tale of an Eastern island nation.
My father once told me, “There is no such thing in the world as absolute evil or absolute good. There is good to be found within evil, and plenty of evil to be found within the good.” I was in my early twenties at the time and his comment echoed in my mind like a Zen koan riddle. Now that I am in my sixties, I think I am just beginning to understand what he meant.
The other day a special screening of the new film was held in Japan for the Japanese press. Martin Scorsese spoke at the event, saying, in essence, “Being strong is not the only way to sustain a civilization. What is important is to get to know as individuals the weak who have been ejected and rejected by society.” Replace strong with “good” and “weak” with “evil” and the statement is remarkably similar to my father’s observation.
Despite the difference of genre, of film and book, there is a common sensibility shared by Scorsese, the director, and my father, the writer. It is a great fortune to have been able to pass on the filming rights to such a person.
I would like to convey my heartfelt appreciation to Martin Scorsese, the actors, and to everyone on the production staff, as I know they had to overcome numerous obstacles in making this film. I congratulate them one and all on the release of the film and hope for its success.
Ryunosuke Endo is executive vice president of FUJI Television