THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE AND WISH TO REMAIN UNSPOILED FOR IT, DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ.
Let me tell you first of all, that I’m not an enthusiast of dramas. I do like them meddling around my so much preferred action / fantasy movies but for dramas as a whole? I don’t necessary watch them by my initiative alone. When I heard of a movie about spreading Christianity in Japan by some Portuguese priests, well how could I help myself if not being interested by it right away?
The film is based on facts during the sixteen hundreds of Japan, where Christians were already being persecuted by the Japanese authorities. A letter then comes into the hands of the clergy, informing of what was happening in Japan but also saying that Father Ferreira had renounced his faith. That same father had given purpose to two pupils who then became priests of the holy church on their own. After being informed of the letter’s contents, the two priests decide to depart to Japan to help the Christians there by spreading the word of God, while trying at the same time to determine what happened to Father Ferreira, since they did not believe that their mentor had forsaken his faith nor his mission.
Once in Macau, Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garupe search for a guide to lead them to Japan. They find the only Japanese in the city, drunk and living below the stairs of a local tavern. After some convincing, the Japanese agrees to guide them to Japan even though he knew that they were Fathers and that they would be persecuted in the land of the rising sun, as were each and every Christian.
Upon arriving there, they are welcomed in a tiny village with precarious conditions. The people there offered the Fathers food and a place to sleep and in turn the Fathers would confess them and perform the normal ceremonies, since everyone in the village had been converted to Christianity and even though they were persecuted, they still prayed to God with what little they had and with the utmost discretion as well.
The fathers struggled to help this village and some others later on, since Christians and Fathers had a bounty on them. In the middle of the persecution, the Fathers are tested on their faith to keep preaching the word of God in the miserable conditions in which they live, while keeping themselves out of view as much as they can.
Trouble soon comes, as the Inquisitor and a squad of soldiers come by the village. They find signs of Christian religious activity and as such, they force the villagers to renounce their faith by stepping on a metal tablet portraying either Christ or Mary. They did as requested, but the Inquisitor found it to be too easy for them and requested further and worse steps for their denial of faith. In the end, the villagers could not do it and they were sentenced to death by the following method below.
The story then continues as the fathers assisted everything from somewhere in the bushes, hidden. They departed the village later and each went on his way while spreading the teachings of Christianity along the way.
It doesn’t take long before Father Rodrigues is caught, mainly due to treason of well known man to him. He is captured alongside other Christians and is kept prisoner in Nagasaki. The Japanese try to break his faith through several methods, but he proved to be resilient. Madness doesn’t take long to take root within his mind, as he witnesses other Christians being killed and tortured after refusing to step on Christian images and later on, even after complying with what was demanded.
In the end, the Inquisitor summoned Father Ferreira who was now living under a Japanese name with a Japanese wife and son. Even after seeing his former mentor and discussing with him about the recent events, Father Rodrigues still refused to forsake his faith, until he witnessed another group of Christians being tortured, hanged upside down with blood dripping from their necks from an incision. Their screams were the final drop for Father Rodrigues to renounce his faith, thus saving the lives of those being tortured.
After doing so, so too Father Rodrigues adopted a Japanese name, wife and son and together with Father Ferreira, they inspected items from Dutch merchants (the only merchants allowed to trade with the Japanese) for any signs of Christianity and would place them apart for destruction if found.
In the end, Father Rodrigues died of old age with a wooden across inside his hands while his body burned within a wooden casket, as it was traditional in Japanese funerals.
Now that you have the plot and story resumed, I must say that I felt the anguish and at the same time, the faith that the characters portrayed to have in the movie. The anguish that the Fathers felt when seeing the Christians condemned because of their faith, the forthcoming doubts about their doctrine, their God, their mission. It was breathtaking.
Watching their journey to a land where their faith is punishable by death and anyone they come in contact with could be a possible “Judas”, really brings out the sense of adventure in this historical drama. I think that viewers who believe in any religion will feel empathy towards the people who died for not renouncing their faith. Having a cause in which they believe it so much to deny their survival is something that I simply cannot explain, because thus far, I don’t possess a similar feeling within me.
I was, however, able to understand the Fathers’ frustration and agony, as they watched other people being tortured and killed because of their beliefs. Most of the time it did not trigger anger within the Fathers, but sadness and powerlessness instead. To a point where the surviving Fathers had to turn themselves to silence.
They behaved and talked like a non Christian and as an individual of the Japanese society. In the end however, it is shown that their thoughts and their prayers had not been suppressed. They had been silenced but not eliminated.
As an enthusiast of Japanese culture, the purpose of the government is so… Japanese. Their ideals would not let Christianity take root into Japan. That would lead to yet another pillar of power that the Japanese, (who had been in several civil wars throughout history) were not willing to accept. Hence the persecution of the Christians. It would help Japan to remain united. At least that’s what I understand, because neither the low or high ranking soldiers cared one bit if someone had a different religion than theirs.
The director, Martin Scorsese, had this movie in sight for more than a decade or so, but he kept saying that he was not yet ready for it. I think I know in part why he said so and why he needed to have more experience. To devise such a journey with so much emotion where one’s faith is put to the test, is something not to be taken lightly in any possible way. Isn’t this one of the things that we, as humans, ask ourselves throughout the entirety of our lives? What is our purpose? What is the meaning of life? Is there something beyond death?
The cast performs specially well by the way! I mean the English speaking actors are top notch and they nail everything very well, but I was much more admired by the Japanese actors who in fact, and just now I’m realizing, acted admirably good as Japanese farmers, soldiers, etc. There is a lot of Japanese dialogue throughout the movie but also some accurate attempts and perfect attempts of the Japanese speaking English, as well as typical clothes of that time and culture, their typical behavior and of course, that mentality of destroying the enemy’s ideology before destroying them physically, as is so well demonstrated during the film.
Personally, I loved the movie even though I’m not inclined to see movies of the same genre. I’d certainly recommend you to watch it, because I took some lessons from it and perhaps, so could you.
PS: Special shout out to Issei Ogata who performed terrifically well as Inquisitor Inoue and became certainly much more efficient as a kind of antagonist in the way that he performed rather than the usual harsh and loud voiced villain.