Endô Shûsaku’s Silence

Endô Shûsaku (1923-96) hasn’t been completely forgotten. True, after Ôe Kenzaburô won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, critics, readers and translators alike focused more of their attention on Ôe’s sobering, often violent works. Now it seems Murakami Haruki runs a monopoly on popular consciousness when it comes to Japanese novelists. Endô’s novels, however, still have a steady, if not growing, appeal. Legendary American film-maker Martin Scorsese is filming an adaptation of Endô’s masterpiece, Silence (chinmoku), for release in 2010. It will star Academy Award-winning actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio Del Toro. Perhaps no greater nod to the novelist’s greatness could have come from a Hollywood that increasingly looks to great literature for inspiration.

Silence covers a period during the Christian persecutions of 17th century Japan. A young Portuguese Jesuit is sent to Japan after receiving troubling reports about his mentor and his faith. When he arrives, he discovers an environment ripe for apostasy. Christians are in hiding, practicing in secrecy. Authorities are trying to root out the ‘subversives’ by forcing everyone to stomp on crude images of Christ. Those who do so shame themselves and their religion. Those who refuse face horribly violent consequences. What will the protagonist discover about his fellow Christians? Will he be forced to endure the same struggles? Could you betray what you believed in most?

Endô’s works usually deal with questions of faith, God and hope in some way, but his treatment of such complex issues is hardly one-sided. Nor is he simply a Christian writer. Sometimes you may even wonder if a benevolent God exists in his novels. Perhaps the fate of mankind is left to mankind.

『沈黙』 遠藤周作






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