Scorsese Silences Japan’s Skeptics

Angelina Jolie’s movie, Unbroken, about the WWII prisoner of war, and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini won numerous accolades including three Oscar nominations, scores of Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, and AFI’s Movie of the Year. But, that occurred in the west. The film’s director received nothing but scorn in Japan. Ironically, one of the most xenophobic nations that has ever existed, resorted to calling Jolie a racist. Read about the uproar here, and here.

Unfortunately, when lunatics call for the banning of a book, or film that doesn’t gibe with their distorted imaginings of history, in Japan, film distributors, and theaters alike run for cover, fearing they’ll be labeled, unpatriotic. For Jolie’s film, there were even calls at the highest level within Japan’s government to bar her from ever entering the country again. That was in 2015. That was then, and this is now. Fade to black.

My wife, who is Japanese, told me that as early as elementary school she was taught about stepping on the face of the imagined likenesses of Catholic deities. I say imagined because anyone that was forced to attend Mass, or Christian churches in the west should be familiar with the second commandment, which states, no one should make any graven image of god, and should not engage in the worship of idols. Apparently, the Catholic Church, and the Christians throughout history that made fortunes on the sales and distribution of relics, forgot to include that in their teachings. In Japan, Catholic idol worship cost the lives of several hundred thousand.

Besides being taught at elementary school to step on a graven image of Mary or Jesus, my wife was horrified to learn that an estimated 300,000 Japanese were tortured, mostly beheaded, as Kirishitans, who refused to give up the imported faith that they adhered to in a different “son” god.


Andrew Garfield’s character Rodrigues is about to have his conviction tested.

Martin Scorsese’s film Silence was written by a Japanese writer named Shusaku Endo. Perhaps this fact will play a role in toning down the vitriol, and the rhetoric of the far-right spewers of venom.

Anyone with any semblance of knowledge of history, and the inner workings of the entertainment industry understand that films about Japan make a lot of people wealthy in Hollywood. Especially if it’s a film based on WWII. La La Land film financiers have doled out an endless sea of cash to produce anti-Japanese, and anti-German films and there is no sign that this is to end any time in the near future. At lease not until Israel is successful in taking possession of all of Palestine. Few people outside of Washington and the entertainment capital realize that a large amount of propaganda film funding comes from the unsuspecting American taxpayer, who are forced to divvy out more than 4B USD annually to Israel. A portion of that money is slated to keep the lobbying efforts of AIPAC viable. Another portion of that money is used to create and endless sea of fake news, publications, universities speaking engagements, and of course, the film industry. AIPAC ensures that Hollywood remains awash in cash to create “blockbusters” that manipulate history under the guise of artistic freedom, and presented nicely to create the illusion of U.S. national pride.

There is no doubt that the Japanese who hold power over the nation engaged in the persecution of the crime of religious belief. Catholics were forced to convert to Buddhism throughout Japan. Even so, it must be remembered that the Catholic Church during that same period engaged in forced conversion, torture, and mass murder, and engaged in the same persecution of religious thought. The only difference here is the Church did it at a much larger scale. Much of the details of the crimes against humanity, under the ruse of religion are recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,00 Kirishitans were murdered by Japan’s inquisitors, and that fact is terrifying enough. However, the Catholics through Crusades and heresy trials executed roughly 600,000 million throughout all of Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Six Hundred Million! Many religions, their gods and their practices were wiped forever off of the face of the earth.

During the 15th and 16th centuries the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries sought to convert the Japanese to Catholicism. Generally, these people had honorable intentions. Regardless, there were those within the Church who had higher ambitions, and that was to control trade throughout Asia. This included trading with the nation of Japan.

The Treaty of Tordesillas, which was signed in 1494, resulted in the two powers of Spain and Portugal dividing world trade territories between them. This resulted in excessive, and exclusive spheres of influence over trade, and which resulted in the colonization of Asia. At that time, neither nation had direct contact with Japan. Portuguese Jesuits under Alessandro Valignano took the initiative and were first to proselytize the Japanese. In 1575, Pope Gregory XIII determined that Japan belonged to the Portuguese Diocese of Macau, and in 1588, the diocese of Funai (Nagasaki) was founded under Portuguese protection.

Shortly thereafter Spain entered Japan via Manila. Their campaigns resulted in Pope Clement VIII’s decree of 1600, which permitted Spanish friars to enter Japan via the Portuguese Indies. The power struggle between Jesuits and mendicant orders caused a schism within the diocese of Funai. Further, complicating the matter were mendicant orders that attempted to establish a diocese on the Tohoku region and which was to be entirely independent from any Portuguese influence. At that time the Roman Catholic world order was being challenged by both the Netherlands and England. It was during this period that Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified Japan.

Once Hideyoshi became the ruler of Japan, he scrutinized external threats, particularly when it was related to the expansion of European powers in Asia. The turning point for Catholic missions was the San Felipe Incident, where in an attempt to recover cargo, the Spanish captain of a shipwrecked trading vessel claimed that the missionaries were there to prepare Japan for conquest. These claims made Hideyoshi suspicious of the foreign religion and what their true aims were. Hideyoshi began curbing Catholicism while all the while maintaining good trade relations with both Portugal and Spain.

Many daimyo, regional rulers of Japan, converted to Christianity during this period. Conversion often occurred under pretext so as to gain favorable trade terms to acquire saltpeter, which was then used to make gunpowder. Between 1553 and 1620, eighty-six daimyos were officially baptized, with many more being sympathetic to Christian causes.

By 1587, Hideyoshi had become alarmed, not because of there were large amounts of Catholic converts but because he discovered that Christian lords oversaw forced conversions, that they had garrisoned off the city of Nagasaki, and had actively been participating in kidnapping, and selling Japanese into the slave trade. They also offended Hideyoshi’s Buddhist sentiments, by allowing the slaughter of horses and oxen for food.

After Hideyoshi’s invasion of Kyushu, he promulgated the Purge Directive Order to the Jesuits, on July 24th, 1587. Article 10 included that Japanese could not be sold as slaves to the Portuguese. The Purge also banned missionaries from engaging in proselytizing Japanese. The Jesuits in Nagasaki conspired to raise an armed resistance against Hideyoshi, led by the Portuguese Jesuit, Gaspar Coelho. Coelho sought help from Kirishitan daimyos, but they refused. Jesuits then sought a deployment of reinforcements from their homeland and its colonies, but this plan was abolished by Jesuit Alessandro Valignano. Valignano realized that a military campaign against Japan’s powerful ruler was futile, and would bring catastrophe to Catholicism in Japan.

By the end of the 16th century, the Japanese mission had become the largest overseas Christian community that was not under the rule of a European power. Its uniqueness was emphasized by Valignano, who promoted a deeper accommodation of Japanese culture.

Most Japanese Christians lived in Kyushu, but Christianization was not a regional phenomenon. It had an impact on the entire nation. By the end of the 16th century baptized Christians existed openly in virtually every province of Japan. On the eve of the Sekigahara battle, which outcome would result in the rise of the Tokugawa’s, fifteen daimyos were baptized. Their domains stretched from Hyuga in Southeast Kyushu all the way to Dewa in North Honshu. By this time, hundreds of churches had been established throughout Japan.

In June 1592, Hideyoshi invaded Korea. Among his leading generals was Christian daimyo Konishi Yukinaga. The attack on Korea resulted in the massacre and enslavement of thousands of Koreans. After Konishi’s loss in the battle of Sekigahara, Konishi would base his refusal to commit seppuku on his Christian beliefs. Instead of taking his own life, he chose capture and execution. It was during this period that Nagasaki was called the Rome of Japan, as most of its inhabitants were Christians. By 1611, Nagasaki had ten churches and was divided into eight parishes including a Korean order.

Following Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu assumed power. Like Hideyoshi, Ieyasu disliked Christian but continued to give priority to trade with Portugal and Spain. Jesuits realized that the Tokugawa shogunate was much more powerful than Hideyoshi’s administration, yet they openly discussed military options against the shogunate. In 1615, a Franciscan emissary of the Viceroy of New Spain asked the shogun for land to build a Spanish fortress. This deepened Ieyasu’s suspicion against Catholicism, resulting in his decision to ban Catholicism from Japan entirely. The, Expulsion of all missionaries from Japan, issued in 1614, was to be the first official statement of a comprehensive control over the Kirishitan. The statement stated that the Christians brought disorder to Japanese society and that their followers “contravene governmental regulations, traduce Shinto, destroy regulations, and corrupt goodness. This edict would be fully implemented and canonized as one of the fundamental Tokugawan laws. In the same year, the bakufu, the government of three dynasties of Japan required all subjects of all domains to register at their local Buddhist temple, as Buddhists. This become an annual requirement in 1666, cementing the Buddhist temples as an instrument of state control.

In the mid-17th century, the shogunate demanded the expulsion of all European missionaries and the execution of all converts. This marked the end of open Christianity. The government erected bulletin boards at crossroads and bridges throughout Japan, strictly warning against any involvement in Christianity.

Systemic persecution began earlier in 1614, but it was met with stiff resistance from Catholics, despite the forced expulsion of the clergy. The main reason for this resistance was not the presence of a few priests who remained, but rather the organization of Japanese Christian communities. Forced to secrecy, and having a small number of clergymen working underground, the Japanese Church was able to recruit leadership from among lay members. Japanese children caused admiration among the Portuguese and actively participated in the resistance. Nagasaki remained a Christian stronghold in the first decades of the 17th century and during the general persecutions. There were approximately 1,000 known martyrs during this period. Countless more were dispossessed of their land and property leading to abject poverty and subsequent death.

The Japanese government used fumi-e to reveal practicing Catholics. Fumi-e were pictures of Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Christ. People who were reluctant to step on the pictures were identified as Christian and taken to Nagasaki to be interrogated. If they refused to renounce their faith while being detained in Nagasaki, they would ultimately be tortured, and executed.

The Shimabara Rebellion, led by a Christian boy named Amakusa Shiro Tokisada, took place in 1637. The rebellion broke out in the wake of the Matsukura clan’s construction of a new castle at Shimabara. Taxes were drastically raised, which provoked anger from local peasants who were being starved to near death. Religious persecution of the local Catholics exacerbated the discontent, which turned into open revolt. The Tokugawa Shogunate sent over 125,000 troops to suppress the rebellion and, after a lengthy siege against the rebels at Hara Castle, defeated them with the support of the Dutch. After the castle fell, Iemitsu had beheaded an estimated 37,000 rebels and sympathizers. Amakusa Shiro’s severed head was taken to Nagasaki for public display. The Hara Castle was burned to the ground and buried along with the bodies of the dead Catholics and rebels.

The shogunate suspected that European Catholics were involved in spreading the rebellion. Portuguese traders were driven out of the country, and the policy of national seclusion was made stricter by 1639. The ban on Christianity that was already in place was enforced more fervently. Christianity in Japan survived only by going underground. The underground Catholics became known as the Hidden Christians. This included foreign priests who remained in the country illegally. Only two years prior to the Shimabara Rebellion, Iemitsu had issued the Sakoku Edict, which barred trade with foreign agents, and effectively isolated Japan from the rest of the world.

Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Catholic communities and the suppression of the Church during the Edo period.

Silence, stars Andrew Garfield as Rodrigues, and Adam Driver as Garupe, two Jesuit priests that entered Japan during the height of the persecution of Christianity and expulsion of foreigners. Rodrigues and Garupe enter Japan in search of Ferreira their fallen hero, who is played by Liam Neeson. It is believed that Ferreira had apostatized after being subjected to torture. Neeson’s role in the film is relatively minor.

Issei Ogata overplays the inquisitor role of Inoue in Scorsese’s film Silence.

Issei Ogata played the inquisitor Inoue. While Issei’s character performance gave the film a unique flare, his portrayal was too cartoonish, and more annoying than terrifying. I’ve lived in Japan for a decade and have never seen anyone act in the manner that Ogata portrayed Inoue. This was probably due to the film director’s lack of exposure to Japan, and its culture.


Mokichi and fellow Kirishitans endure days of being subjected to extreme weather, and pounding waves before finally succumbing in one of the films most powerful scenes.  

Yosuke Kubozuka portrayed Kichijiro, the equivalent to Judas the betrayer. Kubozuka’s acting was a bright spot in the film, second only to the saintly portrayal of Shinya Tsukamoto as Mokichi. Tsukamoto without a doubt had the best performance in the entire film, and well deserves an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

After the first viewing of the film, I felt it moved too slowly, and both Garfield and Driver had not prepared well enough for their roles. At points, the film became lifeless, and tiring. I found myself moving forward in the timeline, which doesn’t fare well as the film was too long for what was being conveyed. Too much attention was drawn toward the monotony of existing in isolation. Neeson’s character didn’t enter the film until the third act. Film school teaches what is the norm in the industry, and that is show, don’t tell. Scorsese spent too much time showing things that didn’t need an explanation, and telling about things that should have been dealt with metaphorically. The visual images of helpless people being tortured by uncaring deviants, lent enough to what the director wanted to portray without having to force the audience to endure in explaining details of methodology that the inquisitor engaged in to obtain apostasy.


Yosuke Kubozuka portrays Kichijiro, the Japanese equivalent of the biblical character Judas.

The scenes in a Maccau bar in the first act did not lend themselves to authenticity, but instead brought an absurdness to the film. Those scenes, and the acting of Kubozuka was over-the-top, and unnecessary. Both Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver could have and should have been much more prepared for their roles as Jesuits, as much of their dialogue which was related to matters of faith and doctrine, came across as pretentious and shallow. At times the film came across as a movie-of-the-week on broadcast TV, instead of a feature film that was years in the making.

With these issues apparent, the second viewing of the film permitted me to focus on the subject matter, rather than the notable flaws.

Overall, I’d have to say the film is very good, and shows yet another example of how Japan’s rulers during the Edo period, engaged in intimidation, thought control, and fear as they manipulated and controlled every aspect of the nation’s people. Not much has changed since that time, save for the manner of dress, and the never ending lack of social etiquette.

But for the Tokugawa’s Japan would be a significantly different nation today. There probably would have never been an Asian aspect to WWIi, and as the film accurately portrayed, the Japanese would be a shining example of what a Christian is supposed to be.

© 2017 Stack Jones All Rights Reserved.

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