It is a heart-breaking story based on the 1966, historical fiction novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo.
The film is an epic but not a spiritual one. The film does not promote any religion either Christianity or Buddhism. But it does make one realise how fallible humans are with respect to the nationality, race and religion.
Set in the 17th century circa 1640s, during the Tokugawa Period when Christianity was banned, it is the story of two Jesuit priests, Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). They travel to Japan in search of their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is said to have abandoned his faith after being captured by the inquisitors.
While on their search, the priests also aim to spread Christianity among the Japanese people. Throughout its first act, it seems as though it will be an incredible journey of discovery with a large amount of hope that they will be able to find their mentor and bring him home.
Instead, the duo are forced into hiding and are soon apprehended. They are made to suffer more spiritually than physically after they are made to watch beheadings, drownings, burning on the stakes and you name it.
They are informed that the persecution would stop if one of the priests publicly renounce their beliefs by placing a foot on an image of Jesus.
Sebastiao prays for guidance and gets no answer and in his struggles, we see our own religious doubts and certainties reflected back.
Narrated partly in the form of a letter by its central character, the theme emphasises on the believer’s greatest obstacle: The silence of his God during the time of his adversity. The film also wrestles with questions that have haunted millions of believers and non-believers: Is there a God, and if so, does He appreciate bloodshed?
Sebastiao answers these questions through his realisations — when he doubts his mission within minutes of landing in Japan. What is the point of hearing confessions in a language he does not understand? What is the point of disappointing a desperate mother by explaining that, technically, her baptised baby won’t be in paradise until it dies? What is the point of his parishioners getting themselves killed by refusing to step on an icon of Jesus — the Inquisitor’s dreaded Trample Test? Step, and they’ve denied their Lord. Don’t step, and they are dead.
And, through Father Ferreria’s point of view, the film also puts to rest, the dilemma — what does it mean to apostatize?
Shot in a restrained, classic style where each frame is atmospheric and picture perfect, Scorsese brings an arresting visual sense to the project, reteaming with production designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto to create a hauntingly arresting tableaux, shot on celluloid and shrouded in mist and shadow of the locales.
The performances too are arresting and every actor plays his part to perfection. But it is the Japanese actor Issey Ogata as the honourable inquisitor Inoue who outperforms the rest with his fine histrionics. With a bent gait and defiant look, he is absolutely brilliant trying to be charming yet reasonable with Sebastiao.
With a run time of 160 minutes, the film is captivating and absorbing, it only gets tedious if you want it to be. Otherwise, this is a film not to miss.