Not many years since, it would have seemed impossible for an American director with a popular following and a career filled with golden opinions from practically the whole critical fraternity to offer up to an admiring public an apologia on behalf of Japanese torturers and murderers of Christians, both foreign and domestic, even if both torturers and tortured lived almost 400 years ago. I suppose we have to thank multi-culturalism which, among its many other blessings, has taught us that there is virtually no behavior by people racially or religiously different from white, middle-class Americans or Europeans that cannot be excused on the grounds of cultural differences.
For the centuries do not matter. Our own ancestors who were the contemporaries of the Japanese persecutors and who bought and sold slaves can be and are condemned in the roundest terms, their sins being visited upon their descendants even to the ultimate generation. Likewise, the Spanish Inquisition remains a reproach to the Church half a millennium on, whereas the Japanese, who hadn’t even the excuse for their cruelty of being colonized by the West, are off the hook — at least so far as Mr Martin Scorsese is concerned. His Inquisitor, as he calls him (Issei Ogata) comes across as rather a sympathetic and even amusing character as he stands up for Japanese resistance to the alien creed.
The film is called Silence, and it begins with what I suppose is meant to be silence’s visual equivalent: a dark screen. But crickets on the soundtrack break the silence. It soon becomes evident that the real silence he has in mind is the silence of God in response to the cries of anguish from the tortured followers of Jesus, said to be His Son. The odd thing is that Jesus is not silent in this film. At a crucial moment (spoiler alert!), when a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is invited to put his foot on a holy image of Christ in order to save five Japanese Christians from a slow horrible death —hanging upside down in sacks and exsanguinated drop by drop — we are asked to believe that Father Rodrigues hears the voice of Jesus saying, "Go ahead. Step on me."