Monday 23 January 2017

"Shusaku Endo may have loved Christ, but he wasn’t fond of Christians"

This is a full transcript, in the original English, of my conversation with The Catholic Thing's Brad Miner on Martin Scorsese's "Silence". The news stories, in Portuguese, can be found here and here. My personal take on the film is here, also in Portuguese. Transcripts of my interview with  Jesuit Fr. José Maria Brito and with missionary and Shusaku Endo specialist Fr. Adelino Ascenso are also available, both in the original Portuguese.

Transcrição completa, no inglês original, da minha conversa com Brad Miner, do The Catholic Thing, sobre o filme "Silêncio" de Martin Scorsese. As reportagens estão aqui e aqui. A minha visão pessoal sobre o filme pode ser lida aqui. Transcrições integrais das conversas com o padre jesuíta José Maria Brito e com o missionário e perito em Shusaku Endo padre Adelino Ascenso também estão disponíveis.

Some say this film is a justification for Apostasy. Is that something that you agree with?
Yes it is.

I wouldn't say that Martin Scorsese, particularly, is certain of that. I don't think he is out to take a particular position that apostasy is a virtue, but rather that he does not believe that martyrdom is a virtue. That martyrdom serves the cause of Christ.

So apostasy, as one character says, in the film and in the book, is actually an act of love. It is what Christ would do. And I think that, obviously, is belied by the history in which there were so many martyrs, in Japan and elsewhere, who did give up their lives for Christ, who felt that enduring in the faith, over the course of great suffering, was the way in which Christians manifested love of God.

You go so far as to cast doubt on the completeness of Endo’s conversion...
It’s a speculation on my part, but I do think that he may have loved Christ, but was not particularly fond of Christians. One of the themes of the book, and of the film, is that Japan is not a place in which Christianity flourishes. Or so Endo believed in the 1960's and certainly the interlocutors of the various Jesuit priests who are tortured and then apostatize, in the book and in the film. They call it a swamp, a fen, a place where Christianity couldn't flourish. Although it had, obviously, prior to the persecution that began and that didn't cease until the Meiji era, which was some 100 years or more after the events which take place in silence.

Imagem do filme de Shinoda
In the many reviews I have read, you are the only one who has mentioned Masahiro Shinoda’s 1971 “Chinmoku”. How do the two compare?
Well Scorsese’s film is more interesting and is cinematically more compelling. The cinematography is more advanced, as you would expect a film made some 50 years later. However, there are great similarities between the two, and Endo's story is there, the apostasy is certainly there.

I guess there is a sense, in the earlier film, made by Shinoda, that the apostasy is perhaps more superficial than comes across in Scorsese’s film. Shinoda's film is darker, visually, but it is essentially the same story. I think both directors did justice to Endo and his vision.

And the acting in the earlier film is strange, in that the man who plays Sebastião Rodrigues does an awful lot of shouting. It is a peculiar thing. But as I also mention, what is remarkable is that the two American actors in the earlier film, both appear to speak Japanese, and that was a more interesting thing to watch in watching the film, because you really did get a sense that they really had, these two missionaries, immersed themselves in Japanese culture and understood, and were able to communicate with people in a way that doesn't really come across in the Scorsese film.

You also drew a comparison with the Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. Would you care to elaborate on that a bit?
I think many people know the story of the Joseph Conrad novel, of a man who is sent on a mission to try and find a fellow named Kurtz who has, as they say, gone native.

It takes place in Africa, and was, as many people now, remade by Francis Ford Coppola in his film Apocalypse Now, and set in Vietnam. The same character, Kurtz, is the man being sought. And again, it is very much a story about going native. Kurtz is an Ivory Trader in one film, and an American military commander in the other, he has become a kind of God-like figure to the people, to the natives in Africa, to the Montaignard tribesmen in Vietnam, and it is very much what is going on here, because going native is what happens to the characters in both Shinoda's film, in the book, of course, and in Scorcese's film.

Marlon Brando em "Apocalypse Now"
I think it is simply a carrying forward of this idea that Japan is a swamp, that there were times when a westerner goes into a situation trying to understand the people, and they end up kind of overwhelming him. He no longer wishes to be someone who imposes this foreign culture on the people he finds and the country he has come to serve.

In “Heart of Darkness” Kurtz writes letters back and forth to an organization Conrad calls the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. Well, that is exactly, really, what the Jesuits have gone to Japan to do. And either you believe that that is valid, because they are bringing not only a series of new customs to replace the savage ones, but they are bringing the one true God into the understanding of people [or you don’t]. And I think that there is an anti-imperialist sense both in Conrad and in Endo and finally now, in Scorsese.

But when you say Endo must have been impressed by this concept of the Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, do you know for a fact that he may have been influenced by it?
I do not know that for a fact, it is speculation.

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