Silence (1971)

27 03 2008

As Masahiro Shinoda’s career progressed, he seemed to further and further away from his New Wave peers. Where as, Oshima and company began more socially and politically conscious filmmakers, Shinoda focused his attention towards Japan’s historical events to place the country’s current events into some sort of context. He started this with Assassination in 1964, and continued with Double Suicide in 1969. Silence, made in 1971, is perhaps the most extreme representation of his historical interests. An adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel, highlighted with wonderful visuals brought down by an overbearing but understandable ponderous sensibility.

Two Portuguese priests travel to Japan in an attempt to spread the gospel and also find a colleague, who had ventured to Japan years prior but never returned. It’s important to mention that Christianity is illegal in Japan so the priests build their congregation on the outskirts of town, but eventually word of their settlement gets around, which leads to their persecution. However, through these events, they begin to probe deeper and deeper into the whereabouts of their lost brethern.

Ponderous, gloomy, melodramatic, and made with the laziest excuse for sound design I’ve ever heard, Silence‘s only saving grace is its beautiful and the admirable, albeit unsuccessful, attempts at being poetic and profound. Perhaps a story about two Jesuit missonaries should have been a warning sign that I was in for something too philosophical, but it still the film takes itself way too seriously. It comes off even worse when the characters not only articulate their thoughts far clearly, but also seem to be dubbed when they do so. Not to mention, the completely random decision to have characters hold conversations in two different languages. Oddly enough, it’s only when the American actors speak in English that they sound like they are being dubbed. The Japanese people speaking English is more convincing, but most of the time it’s hard to understand them anyway. Obviously, I can’t discredit the film based on the incomprehensible dialogue, but it is another very basic cinematic factor that seems to drag the film down. Like I said, the visuals are more than enough to make up for the mess, but it seems like if Shinoda spent as much time developing characters, he’d have a much more engaging film. Truth be told, the final hour and the half is really just people being tortured and it’s not like in a character-driven purpose like in say, Life of Oharu. Instead, the torture just demonstration in the most unsubtle of ways, just how evil the Japanese government was three-hundred years ago. The problem is, why is this relevant at all? Call me naive, or uneducated but the injustice being depicted occurred in another lifetime and it’s not like the characters are fleshed out beyond superficial stereotypes to actually make them worthy of the audience’s concern. That said, it really is quite nice to look at, enough so that I can genuinely say that I enjoyed once I got use to fact that basically it’s built around the most didactic and uninteresting of stories.