What is the value of the Scorsese film, Silence, to historians? It faithfully follows Shusaku Endo’s original novel (1966). Historians who seek factual accuracy in the novel may marvel at Endo’s knowledge of the historical sources if they can overlook some obvious discrepancies. If they cannot, they should simply turn to scholarly works such as George Elison’s Deus Destroyed (1991) on Japanese persecution, apostasy, and anti-Christian propaganda literature. The value of Silence resides in the theological/missiological questions, which Endo asked during the Vatican II era. Space does not permit a detailed analysis of these, but it is sufficient to state here that the image of a triumphant Christ from the Baroque West did not speak to the persecuted minority church of seventeenth-century Japan, but the “ugly,” “worn,” and “trampled down” face of Christ did, and perhaps still does to those persecuted churches in the East today.
I will supply only some information about the European Jesuits that may help historians appreciate Endo’s and Scorsese’s creativity. Among the four Jesuits in the story, three are fictional. First, Alexandro Valignano (1539–1606) was not the Visitor [End Page 169] at the Macau Seminary, who knew the difficult situation in Japan in 1638. It would have been André Palmeiro (1569–1635). Liam Matthew Brockey’s The Visitor: André Palmeiro and the Jesuits in Asia (2014) provides analysis on Palmeiro’s and his successor Manuel Diaz’s (1560–1639) dealings with Ferreira’s apostasy.
The main character Sebastian Rodrigues and his companion Francisco Garupe are Endo’s creation. Unlike the storyline, in 1640, no Jesuits landed in Japan. After the Amakusa-Shimabara uprising, the government’s extreme measures prevented foreigners from entering the country. The authorities massacred the Portuguese emissaries from Macau upon arrival and cut Iberian trade and diplomatic ties completely. Despite this, in August 1642, Visitor Antonio Rubino (1578–1643) led five Jesuits and their assistants to enter Japan. They were immediately arrested, tortured, and executed in March 1643. A second group of four Jesuits with their assistants led by Pedro Marquez (1575–1657) was captured in June 1643, and under torture, all apostatized. Among this group was Giuseppe Chiara (1602–85), whom Endo used as the model for Sebastian. Unlike the character of Sebastian, Chiara would not have had time before his arrest to visit hidden Kirishitan (Christian) communities to give the Eucharist. Like Sebastian, the shogunate gave Chiara a Japanese name, Okada San’emon, kept him in the “Christian Residence” in Tokyo with his Japanese wife, and employed him as the assistant to the Christian Inquisitor Inoue Masashige (1585–1661). Chiara wrote some books (no longer extant) explaining Christianity for the inquisition. Endo’s story ended with a hopeful note, that the apostate Padre Sebastian gives absolution after hearing the confession of Kichijirō, a weak Kirishitan with a history of multiple apostasies, and remarks, “Even now I am the last priest in this land.” Endo added an appendix, “Diary of an Officer at the Christian Residence,” for which he modified excerpts from Sayō yoroku, the actual diary of one of the guards at the Christian Residence. In these entries, one reads that the government remained suspicious about Kirishitan activities in the Okada household and made some arrests as late as 1676. Although neither Endo nor Sayō yoroku indicated that Chiara (Okada) kept his Christian faith until death, Scorsese’s film is suggestive of such, as his wife secretly slips a Christian icon into Okada’s hands in his cremation barrel.
The dark looming figure of Cristóvão Ferreira (c.1580–1650), an excellent missionary turned apostate and the Inquisitor’s best instrument Sawano Chūan, was a true historical person. His activities were also attested in the diaries of the Captains of the Dutch East India Company, which again Endo modified.
So why go see the movie? The cinematographic beauty of Southern Kyushu...