The seven secrets of Silence
Acclaimed American-Japanese artist Makoto Fujimura on Scorsese, beauty and threatened belief
Martin Scorsese’s Silence is one of the most talked about movies of 2016. But celebrated visual artist Makoto Fujimura (and director of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Brehm Centre in California) has been talking about Silence for a long, long time.
Eternity interviewed Fujimura about his intimate involvement with Silence, especially his deep love of the novel of the same name that inspired Scorsese’s film (Fujimura was a special advisor to the acclaimed Hollywood director).
Written by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, Silence (1966) is a potent portrait of the 17th Century persecution of Christian believers in Japan. After Fujimura first encountered Endo’s unusual treatment of those who rejected their faith (apostasy), in order to save loved ones from torture or death, the internationally recognised artist found it helped to shape his own perspective upon Christian faith, identity and doubt.
Silence and Beauty is a personal reflection about the hiddenness, ambiguity and beauty of Japanese culture and its approach to Christian faith.
Published last year and written by Fujimura, Silence and Beauty is a personal reflection about the hiddenness, ambiguity and beauty of Japanese culture and its approach to Christian faith. Although Fujimura had limited time, he offered seven brief insights to Eternity about Scorsese, Shusaku and the “swampland” of Japanese beliefs.
1. What are your thoughts on Martin Scorsese’s Silence, particularly in contrast with the source novel?
Scorsese’s Silence is an absolute masterpiece, with so many layers built in… I have seen it five times, and each time I discover something new.
2. With an American film maestro adapting Silence for the screen, what impact has it had upon Endo’s novel?
The Silence book has become a bestseller in Japan, and interest in Endo’s masterpiece has been reawakened globally.
3. What sorts of things do Western viewers need to understand about Japanese culture – and its relationship with Christianity – before viewing Silence?
That weakness is strength, ambiguity is closer to truth, and beauty is God.
4. Why has Shusaku Endo’s Silence novel (and his other writings) had such a palpable, enduring effect upon you?
There are supernatural overlaps with the theme and characters of the novel. It’s a novel that “reads” you.
God may have hidden gospel truths in Japan that will help us in the West to understand ourselves. – Makoto Fujimura
5. Your reflective book Silence and Beauty celebrates Endo’s boldness in focusing upon apostate believers. What is it about those Christians which grips your heart and imagination?
That we are all like Kichijiro (a prominent character in Silence), and the cruel reality of our time forces us to step on our own Fumi-es (an image of Jesus Christ, used by Japanese officials in the 17th Century as a tool for public shaming of Christian believers).
6. As a Christian artist of Japanese and American heritage, how does Scorsese’s Silence represent you – and not represent you?
I am not a “Christian artist”, but an artist who follows Christ … Silence depicts God as a verb.
7. Does Japan still remain a “swampland” for the good news of Jesus – as Silence characters state that it is – or is there a different story to the contemporary Christian church in Japan?
It is still a “swampland” but not many realise there are seeds that can grow in the swamp, like rice. We need churches that embody the beauty of God and compassion of our Saviour. God may have hidden gospel truths in Japan that will help us in the West to understand ourselves.