Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Mexico/Taiwan/USA, 2016. Cappa Defina Productions, CatchPlay, Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, Fábrica de Cine, IM Global, SharpSword Films, Sikelia Productions, Verdi Productions, Waypoint Entertainment. Screenplay by Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. Produced by Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Barbara De Fina, Randall Emmett, Gaston Pavlovich, David Lee, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler. Music by Kathryn Kluge, Kim Allen Kluge. Production Design by Dante Ferretti. Costume Design by Dante Ferretti. Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. Academy Awards 2016. National Board of Review Awards 2016. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2016.
Informed that their colleague has abandoned the church and taken up life as a citizen of seventeenth-century Japan after voyaging there as a missionary, two Portuguese priests make it their mission to go to the far east and prove the news untrue. What clerics Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver encounter when they arrive is a nation determined to drive out all Christian influence, its small group of devout believers forced to practice in secret or else face torture from their overseers. Time passes and Garfield is put through the wringer, his devotion to the church constantly challenged until a final encounter with the man he has been seeking (Liam Neeson) delivers a powerful blow of harsh truth that brings his struggle with his faith and the silence of an unresponsive God to its final reckoning. What sounds like a manipulative religious tract is actually a pensive investigation of the nature of belief, the impractical goal of transferring the mindset of a particular religion across a cultural divide and the effect that our physical vulnerabilities have on our faith. Director Martin Scorsese makes his richest and most powerful film since The Last Temptation of Christ by filming his own version of his beloved Black Narcissus, in which blind western arrogance is again no match for the mysteries and zen confidence of the east. Performances from the European cast are uneven thanks to unsure accent work, but the Japanese actors are uniformly astounding, with Issei Ogata the best of them as an inquisitor whose rejection of the visitors is not just xenophobia or a preference for his own Buddhist beliefs. The theme of Japan as a place where Christianity cannot take root is a fascinating exploration of the history of missionary work, while the physical pleasure of such grand imagery coupled with a mesmerizing soundtrack is to be savoured from beginning to end.