Scorsese to start work on Jesuit film

An epic story about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan is due to go into production next month, under the direction of Martin Scorsese, according to reports. Years of delays and litigation have hampered his ambition to turn Shusaku Endo’s book Silence into a film, but now it appears that plans are moving forward.

Liam Neeson has apparently been secured to play the role of Jesuit Father Ferreira who risked persecution and even death to bring the Gospel to Buddhists in Japan, with Andrew Garfield playing the younger Father Rodrigues, who travels to Japan in search of his spiritual mentor, following reports that Father Ferreira has rejected his faith. 

Silence is set in 1643, at a time when Christianity was being ruthlessly suppressed by the authorities and was only surviving in underground communities. St Francis Xavier and two companions had first brought the faith to Japan in 1549 and had been permitted to preach and teach to the Buddhist population; up to half a million people converted to Christianity. However, hostility towards the Christian missionaries grew. They were either expelled or faced martyrdom until Shogun Ieyasu realised that they considered death as ‘glorious’ and turned instead to torture to force Christians to renounce their faith or apostatize. Silence is the story of Fr Ferreira, the highly respected Portuguese Provincial and leader of the Jesuit mission in Japan who was reported to have apostatized and possibly even collaborated with the authorities.

Scorsese describes Silence as Endo’s “greatest novel” that has become increasingly precious over the years since he first read it. “Silence is the story of a man who learns – so painfully – that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men than we realise, and that He is always present … even in his silence.”

In July 2011, Harper’s Magazine carried an article by Vince Passaro on Scorsese, in which he noted that the director’s strong Italian Catholic upbringing lies at the heart of the stories he tells on film. In interviews, Scorsese has admitted that one of his great themes is betrayal — and Passaro notes that in each movie, Scorsese’s turncoat ends up alone, isolated from society, a Judas who pays a heavy price. Scorsese himself explains this in the Foreword to Endo’s book. “For me,” he writes, “it is the story of one who begins on the path of Christ and who ends up replaying the role of Christianity’s greatest villain, Judas ... In so doing, he comes to understand the role of Judas. This is one of the most painful dilemmas in all of Christianity.”

Martin Scorsese was born into a devout Italian as a young man seriously considered the priesthood, even entering the seminary. He drifted away from the faith and has married five times but he recently said: "I'm a lapsed Catholic.  But I am Roman Catholic, there's no way out of it."

Above: Andrew Garfield (centre) and Martin Scorsese