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Silence (2016)

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Second viewing, I was able to focus more on the images and cinematography, as well as the performances. There are some beautiful, well-framed shots, from the opening scene to the various moments with hands holding crosses, a repeated and important motif that was clearer on a second viewing. This time, the scene with Kichijiro's renewal of faith and first confession with Rodrigues brought me to tears, and I do think the film's moral/emotional center may lie with Kichijiro.

Alas, on the second viewing I also noticed the same sound issues, even in a wholly different theater. I don't want to ruin people's experiences of the film by nitpicking and pointing out the particular scenes, but I'll just say that the sound design for this film is noticeably lacking. It all had to do with the mix and dialogue: the ADR and a distinctly distorted/static moment with a few lines. Bummer, but I think it's more than just a one-time poor theater experience. Can they fix these things for Blu-ray/DVD release? I hope so.

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@Joel Mayward That's weird.  I don't know what you're picking up on, but I thought it had one of the best sound designs of the year, and I read a couple other reviews that thought so, too.  If there is an issue, I'm sure they can fix it on the Blu-Ray if they're aware of it.

 

I thought this movie was incredible.  Probably the movie of the year for me.  I just saw it Wednesday night, and I'm already reading the book as well.  It's interesting so far, because while the movie was more immersive than the book's early chapters, the efforts Endo goes to to recreate the historical perspectives of the characters really pays off.  There seems to be a much clearer sense of the language and cultural barrier between the priests and the Japanese, and a subtle, unconscious, but clear sense of superiority that the priests have over the peasants.  This complicates things more than I was aware in the film, at least in the first 45 minutes or so.

I find it interesting that those non-Christians who praise the film--the people at Reverse Shot, for instance--seem so eager to point out the distance we supposedly have from Rodrigues, and how critical of him we should be.  While watching, I was identifying with him very closely, imagining my own reactions in his position.  Scorsese nearly always pours himself into his lead characters; their pain becomes his, their evil and their tragedy are made real to us by the way he looks through their eyes.  I suspect Scorsese has made the story more intimate and immediate than Endo presents it in the novel, though I cannot say for sure yet.

I'm not sure what to think of that voiceover at the climax.  Presumably it's from the book?  I wondered if it was Neeson's voice at first as well, but I quickly concluded it wasn't.  Was the cock crowing three times right after that a perfect touch, or was it too much?  I'm not sure.

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@Peter T Chattaway  I haven't read through the whole article yet, but apparently Film Crit Hulk agrees with you on that voiceover.  Here's the relevant paragraph {SPOILERS AHEAD}:

Quote

Take for instance the strange, almost surreal moment in Silence where god actually breaks his titular silence and speaks to Rodrigues. It may seem a strange choice to have this other worldly moment... Except for the fact that the voice of "God" is none other than Ciaran Hinds, his old father and head of his church back in Portugal. It's a detail that makes a brilliant statement, both about Rodrigues's sincere belief in hearing god and yet backing up the notion that it is not a moment of otherworldliness at all (it's just his reference point). It's such a small detail that opens up another world of interpretation and yet you could miss it so easily. But to me it's a perfect representation of Scorsese. He doesn't hand it to you. He doesn't guide you. If you don't see it, you miss it.

Whole thing here.

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My review, in which I tried something a bit different--writing from the perspective of Kichijiro in the spirit of Ignatian contemplation.

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Film Crit Hulk wrote:
: It's a detail that makes a brilliant statement, both about Rodrigues's sincere belief in hearing god and yet backing up the notion that it is not a moment of otherworldliness at all (it's just his reference point).

Exactly -- the "reference point". Rodriguez consistently imagines Christ through *mediated* points of reference like the El Greco painting and the voice of the religious authority who sent him to Japan. We are left to ponder whether God is genuinely speaking to Rodriguez through these things or whether he is seeing fragments of his own mind, his own memory storage.

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"What would his people back home want if they ever learned just how far from them he'd really gone? He broke from them and then he broke from himself. I'd never seen a man so broken up and ripped apart..."  Capt. Willard - APOCALYPSE NOW

SPOILERS AHEAD

A lot of thoughts went through my mind last night while watching (experiencing) Silence.  But, for some reason, I kept coming back to this line from Apocalypse Now.   I don't think I've read any comparisons yet between these two films, but I believe they share much in common.  The line above not only applies to what Father Rodriguez finds when finally confronted with the man who once was Father Ferreira, but also with what the Dutch trader finds with the man who was once Father Rodriguez.  I hope to have more thoughts later, but this film is still percolating.

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I saw this last night. I'm not sure I can add too much; like others, I found the movie about a half-hour too long--but (unlike other Scorsese flicks) that extra thirty minutes actually helped in some ways, since Rotriguez's journey is so grueling. It's a way of getting us, as the audience, to feel a similar sense of weariness. Other thoughts:

1. Yôsuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro was very good--particularly in the middle, though the character tapers off a bit toward the end.

2. The character of the Inquisitor was...hmm. Well, not like I pictured from the book, which is no crime, but also--seemingly--a bit on the stereotyped side. He veered in a direction that would have made me very uncomfortable if this movie had been made in the 1940s. OTOH, I've not seen Issei Ogata in anything else, so perhaps I've just spent too much time in 1940s pop film. I do dearly love that character, as well as the Interpreter, both of whom go a long way toward complicating the stuff set up in the first half of the movie.

3. I felt like the movie was less clear than the book in showing from the start that Rodriguez is kind of a jerk. By my reading of the novel, it's pretty clear from the beginning that Rodiguez's view of the villagers is--at the very least--flawed, and at the worst imperialistic. Some of this comes out in the last half of the movie, but initially we're left to assume that he's correct, or at least that the film thinks he's correct. The fact that Garfield looks so much like a European Jesus doesn't help--again, the novel treats his Christ-likeness ironically from a pretty early point, but the irony is delayed here precisely because Garfield looks like [some versions of] Jesus.

4. This movie is really, really gorgeous. 

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4 hours ago, NBooth said:

I felt like the movie was less clear than the book in showing from the start that Rodriguez is kind of a jerk. By my reading of the novel, it's pretty clear from the beginning that Rodiguez's view of the villagers is--at the very least--flawed, and at the worst imperialistic. Some of this comes out in the last half of the movie, but initially we're left to assume that he's correct, or at least that the film thinks he's correct. The fact that Garfield looks so much like a European Jesus doesn't help--again, the novel treats his Christ-likeness ironically from a pretty early point, but the irony is delayed here precisely because Garfield looks like [some versions of] Jesus.

In my second viewing, this seemed more pronounced and noticeable. It's portrayed very subtly, and Rodrigues is less of a jerk and more of a person with good intentions and misplaced actions. For example, his insistence to the Japanese on contacting other villages right away is such poor advice, and Rodrigues truly doesn't know what he's talking about, but Garfield plays it with such sincerity, it doesn't appear overtly colonial/prideful, or at least it didn't stand out to me in the first viewing as much as the second. His contempt for Kichijiro seemed also more pronounced in my second viewing.

No one else has noticed sound issues? I'll post the one particular scene here, because I feel like I'm crazy, and don't want to spoil anyone's experience, but I heard it twice: it's the ocean crucifixion scene, when Mokichi first begins to speak, and before Ichizo dies. As waves crash over him, he says a few lines, and each one is has noticeable feedback/static/hiss that is only present when he's speaking, almost as if his track in the mix is muted until his lines are said, and the white noise comes through too.

4 hours ago, NBooth said:

This movie is really, really gorgeous. 

The visuals also felt more pronounced on a second viewing. Jeff Overstreet said something in a Twitter conversation comparing this film to Andrei Rublev, how Tarkovsky's film is more painterly. This is true, but the power of Silence is not just in its story or performances, but in its images, maybe mostly in its images. It's a film which addresses, even embraces, both the Image of God and the Word of God dynamics within Christology.

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NBooth wrote:
: OTOH, I've not seen Issei Ogata in anything else, so perhaps I've just spent too much time in 1940s pop film.

I was surprised to learn, between my two viewings of the film, that Ogata had played the Japanese businessman in Yi Yi. He also played Hirohito in Sokurov's The Sun. Those are the only other films I've seen that he was in, I think. Apparently he's also known for his work as a comedian in Japan.

I'd really like to know why Ogata's Inquisitor seemed to *deflate* after Rodriguez replies to his "You don't understand Japan" by saying "You don't understand Christianity."

: The fact that Garfield looks so much like a European Jesus doesn't help . . .

Huh. That possibility never even occurred to me.

Joel Mayward wrote:
: His contempt for Kichijiro seemed also more pronounced in my second viewing.

Same here.

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21 hours ago, NBooth said:

2. The character of the Inquisitor was...hmm. Well, not like I pictured from the book, which is no crime, but also--seemingly--a bit on the stereotyped side. He veered in a direction that would have made me very uncomfortable if this movie had been made in the 1940s. OTOH, I've not seen Issei Ogata in anything else, so perhaps I've just spent too much time in 1940s pop film. I do dearly love that character, as well as the Interpreter, both of whom go a long way toward complicating the stuff set up in the first half of the movie.

In my backstory reading, evidently the Inquisitor was an openly gay man, one of the few such leaders in the Tokugawa Era.  Nonetheless, he struck me as more than a bit stereotyped as well.

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2 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

I was surprised to learn, between my two viewings of the film, that Ogata had played the Japanese businessman in Yi Yi. He also played Hirohito in Sokurov's The Sun. Those are the only other films I've seen that he was in, I think. Apparently he's also known for his work as a comedian in Japan.

I'd really like to know why Ogata's Inquisitor seemed to *deflate* after Rodriguez replies to his "You don't understand Japan" by saying "You don't understand Christianity."

That was such a fantastic moment - and not because I entirely understood it. I think it could be read a few ways. But it was an unexpected reaction.

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I'd be able to take critiques like this more seriously if they at least pretended to grapple with the fact that Silence is a Japanese novel. Not that the movie is dependent on the book for its interpretation--but it does, one would think, modify how one reads the movie (for instance, the Son/sun pun that the author here points out has its origin, though it does not appear verbatim, on page 148 of the English translation of Silence).

Edited by NBooth

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On January 29, 2017 at 8:44 AM, NBooth said:

I'd be able to take critiques like this more seriously if they at least pretended to grapple with the fact that Silence is a Japanese novel. Not that the movie is dependent on the book for its interpretation--but it does, one would think, modify how one reads the movie (for instance, the Son/sun pun that the author here points out has its origin, though it does not appear verbatim, on page 148 of the English translation of Silence).

I saw that article, too, and thought it was terrible!  They get a literature professor to review the movie in one the 2-3 most important book review publications in the country, and she barely acknowledges the movie is even based on a book??  Not only has she not read the book, she doesn't appear to have done any other research on the story or its historical background, adding in all sorts of assertions about colonialism that have very little to do with the movie.  If she had a real historical knowledge of the period and was critiquing both film and novel on their depiction of historical colonial and missionary activity, that would be one thing, but she makes all sorts of assumptions and anachronistic assertions that tell you she doesn't know what she's talking about.  She talks as if the priests were sent by the Portuguese political authorities.  Is Kichijiro really treated as a "running joke"?  Were the priests really thinking about their own "whiteness," and was their any "homoeroticism" about Rodrigues's "attachment to his fellow priests"?  

More offensive is this sentence and the points that follow it: "Scorsese thus attempts to give Catholicism a philosophical gravity that its flattened popular versions often lack."  Because Catholicism doesn't have any natural philosophical gravity built on 2000 years of thought/debate/theological structuring (fed by several of the greatest minds the world has ever seen) and laying the foundation for the Western intellectual tradition which she is writing from/within or anything.

 

(I am confused on the Son/Sun thing, though--some quick Googling suggests that Francis Xavier had problems because the Japanese names for the Christian God got confused with first a Buddhist deity, then with a word for "big lie."  Is the Son/Sun thing just an English translation of that?  Because that would be a weird and unnecessary dumbing-down that you would think the translator could more easily explain with a footnote or something.)

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StephenM wrote:
: Is Kichijiro really treated as a "running joke"?  

People *have* been laughing in the theatre as his cycle of apostatizing and confessing goes 'round and 'round, for whatever that's worth.

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My follow-up piece on "Apostasy, ambiguity and Silence": 

Quote

Silence depicts the development and refinement of a ruthless, nearly perfect machine for destroying Christian witness. What is the Christian response to this machine? Thousands of Christians professed their faith and died martyrs’ deaths. Others made compromises, trampled the fumie, and lived their faith in secret. It was due to the latter, in part, that Endo’s own faith came down to him.

Silence is many things: an indictment of Western imperialism and cultural chauvinism, a jeremiad for the ruthless ingenuity of Japanese cruelty, a hymn to Japanese martyrs and a tribute to hidden Christians. Thinking about it over the last several months, I confess, I’ve gone back and forth on what I think of the climax.

The cock crow, among other things, clearly frames Rodrigues’ act as a betrayal. Is it Jesus he betrays? Could he possibly have heard the voice of Jesus at the climax, and what would it mean if he did? However we answer these questions, we shouldn’t answer them too quickly.

 

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