Monday, May 1, 2017

Silence (2016)

Set in the 17th century, "Silence" tells the story of Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe, two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to propagate the Christian faith, and also to find out what happened to their mentor Father Ferreira who vanished years ago, amid mass persecution of the followers of Christianity in Japan, where the religion is officially outlawed.

The mission proves to be an ultimate test of faith for Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) as he struggles to find hope in a scenario where believers continue to live in fear, and the unfortunate ones face torture and death, for their refusal to renounce Christianity. Along his journey, Rodrigues occasionally questions God's unbearable silence in the face of rampant atrocity.

Having seen and loved the 1971 Masahiro Shinoda adaptation of the Shûsaku Endô novel, I couldn't help but go into comparison mode whilst viewing and reviewing Martin Scorsese's version. The Shinoda version is definitely superior in every way, but Scorsese is not too far behind, and certainly packs a searing punch with some of his own expert touches that are unique to his version of the film.

For one, the film is a visual feast; the cinematography is gorgeous, the visuals are awe-inspiring with a pitch-perfect atmosphere and a chilling opening sequence that is straight out of a nightmare! Scorsese's version is longer and perhaps more dramatic as compared to Shinoda's more objective, yet highly effective and better story-telling style.

Scorsese adds some powerful and surreal imagery including the aforementioned opening sequence depicting torture at the hot springs accompanied by Father Ferreira's (Liam Neeson) hair-raising description of  the method of torture in a voice-over. Another striking scene is that of Father Rodrigues' hallucinatory vision of the distorted reflection of Christ in the stream as he goes ballistic.

One of the things handled better and accentuated here is a sense of constant danger and a feeling of mistrust. The priests find themselves venturing in an unknown land under the guidance of an unreliable alcoholic and they are always anxious as to what would await them next. This boosts an element of suspense, for the viewer is equally in doubt whenever a new person comes in contact with the priests and offers to take them somewhere; whether he/she will betray or whether they would take them to their destination. A boat journey in the night highlights this aspect, as Rodrigues suddenly feels disconcerted about his boatman. 

However, Scorsese somewhat waters down some of the other cardinal sequences that were the highlights of the Shinoda film. The capture of Father Rodrigues and the conversation between him and the main antagonist, Inoue (Of concubines and Christianity!) fail to produce the same impact as did Shinoda's version.

Even Inoue's caricature-like portrayal as an effeminate old man (Issey Ogata) with over the top mannerisms is disappointing as compared to Eiji Okada's restrained, gentlemanly depiction of the opponent with a smiling face in the original. Ditto for the characterization of Kichijiro; the weak Christian who displays more human traits than Christian, upholding life over religion but ultimately torn in a never-ending conflict of faith. The weakness was more palpable in the Shinoda version; here he comes off more as a conniving, unremorseful betrayer except in but one scene in the final hour.

Scorsese also completely omits one great sequence from the Shinoda film, the horse hooves torture, that is somewhat difficult to watch. This scene is replaced by a rather quick and tame beheading scene, seen from a distance. 

Rodrigues' voice-over reports, presumably conveyed in letters, are also quite unsubtle, hammering in God's deafening silence, as experienced by him, once too many times. The ending is extended in the Scorsese version showing us more of the fate of Father Rodrigues. Shinoda's way of ending it is bleaker and much better. 

It is good to see Liam Neeson in a serious, meaningful role after a long time. The leads Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver appear a little too young compared to the leads in Shinoda's film. Not sure how they were written in the novel though, that would perhaps make it clearer if they were miscast. Driver doesn't get much scope in his short screen time. Garfield does well, and maybe it is just me, but he lacks the mature persona that a role like this demands.

While Shinoda tells the same story in a more concise, to the point fashion, Scorsese goes for a more sprawling, epic scope, and comes up with a superb product in its own right, but falls short of matching up to the brilliance of the 1971 masterpiece.

Score: 9/10 

1 comment:

  1. Matching the brilliance was never the point... to be able to make a film like this with studio money is nothing short of a remarkable achievement... also, only someone like Kurosawa could recreate Medieval Japan like Scorsese managed here!