Here is a movie adapted from a book by Shuaku Edo, a Japanese Catholic. It tells the story of two Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan. It is directed by a man who was “educated” in a Jesuit seminary until he was 14, and the film is dedicated to “Japanese Christians and their padres”. It was given its world premiere at the Vatican. So it is hardly a bolt from the blue that this movie is in-your-face propaganda for that bastion of obscurantism, misogyny and child molestation, the Catholic church.
Now that doesn’t automatically mean it cannot be a good movie — the films of Terence Mallick and Robert Bresson attest to that. Scorsese’s own Kundun was a brilliant religious movie. But this is just a god-awful film.
It is massively overlong, it is pompous and ponderous and it is weighed down by a central performance from Andrew Garfield that adds a new arboreal dimension to the adjective wooden.
It tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuits who travel to Japan to search for another missionary who has turned native and renounced Catholicism. In essence it’s the story of Heart of Darkness (if Scorsese had a sense of humour he would surely have called it Apostasy Now!).
Originally Daniel Day-Lewis was to play the lead priest, and that would have given the movie some of the heft it so badly needs. But instead, perhaps with an eye on attracting the all-important youth audience, Scorsese has cast Garfield and Adam Driver. Driver does play his role with conviction, but casting Spider-Man and young Darth Vader turns the movie into Bill and Ted’s Excellent Catholic Adventure.
However, it is in the final torture-porn section of the film when Father Rodrigues is interrogated by the Buddhist Inquisitor, that the hypocrisies in this film finally condemn it to eternal mediocrity. We are clearly expected to feel Rodrigues’s pain and to personalise his dilemma of faith when faced with the charming but evil Inquisitor as he tortures a handful of photogenic Japanese Catholics.
But in Scorsese’s fantasy Catholicism, Rodrigues and Garppe are 17th century hippies on a gap-year. In reality they were Jesuit zealots and the Jesuits were the butchers in chief leading the Papal Inquisition throughout Catholic Europe as they arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of thousands of “heretics”. The horrific form of torture by dangling over a pit that Scorsese so lovingly recreates was in fact a variant on the Jesuits’ own preferred method of torture, the strappado.
The repression of Japanese Christians was a savage act of barbarity — but at that exact moment Jesuits like Rodrigues and Garppe were holy warriors in an even more savage slaughter. The fate of Japanese Christian peasants was appalling, but the fate of Jews and Muslims at the hands of the Jesuits was arguably worse.
Last time I checked Scorsese had no plans to make a movie about that Catholic crime against humanity.
And there is an even greater irony that hovers like a mushroom cloud over this sanctimonious drivel. Fierce though the repression of Christianity was in Japan, it was never finally successful. Christianity survived and expanded in and around Nagasaki.
You will have heard of that otherwise obscure Japanese city because in August 1945 it was the target for the dropping of the second atomic bomb, and it was widely reported that the bomb-aimers used the steeple of the Christian cathedral to ensure they acheived maximum destruction.
So Christianity in Japan was never eradicated by the Buddhist Inquisition, that was acheived by the US Air Force.
Having to sit through this awful movie actually made me feel like a martyr to Christian bullshit. Pray that you never have to see it.
A film that deserves its acclaim
The greater terror was internment
A story of excitement and fear