The First Word on Silence . . .

. . . which is to say the novel, Chinmoku, will always belong to Endo. After reading Mark Lickona’s article I had a few questions, so I went back to my well-worn copy of the book and read a couple of paragraphs from an interview with the author in 1967 (the year after Silence was published). The first should seem familiar to readers of Korrektiv—or anybody’s inner existentialist. With a Japanese twist:

For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood . . . has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility.

Say what? “Without the support of a Christian tradition or history …” How is that possible? What does that even mean?

Good thing there’s another paragraph:

But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony … If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan’s mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is—that is what I want to find out.

I’m really not sure what to make of the first paragraph, so please, if you can, enlighten me with your comments below. But the second paragraph I rather like, and not just because he uses music as a metaphor. What I find stirring is the resolution he exhibits as he looks ahead to the next thirty years of his career. And even more than that, perhaps, is his ready admittance that he isn’t exactly sure what he makes of the predicament in which he finds himself.

And since Scorsese’s version has fallen upon awfully rocky ground in these parts, I’ll provide a link here to a 1971 Japanese version, directed by Masahiro Shinoda from a screenplay by Endo himself with the director. It differs from the novel in several ways, but I won’t give the game away here.

Last of all, here’s a look at the author himself, shilling for something called the “Bungo Mini”. And coffee:


  1. Broderick Barker says

    Just from the blunt opening narrative over painted images, lovely/jarring credits music, and tense, motile opening scene, I’m willing to bet that the Japanese version is a better movie qua movie. I went to the new Silence as a film critic, not a theologian, and left deeply disappointed. (I like my brother’s take, but I didn’t hear about it until much later.) Looking forward to finishing it.

    I think the question of why the faith finds root in some cultures more easily than others is fascinating. Why did the Jesuits have so little luck with the Native North Americans? But I also think Endo sounds a bit curious in that opening graf. As the prologue notes, Christianity grew pretty rapidly in Japan until it was surpressed, and it seems to me that every culture has to absorb Christianity without Christian culture, at least at the outset. Enculturation is hardly a novel concept.

    Agreed that the second graf is heartening. It’s Endo’s version of Percy’s search, no?

  2. Broderick Barker says

    And if I ever gain a title half as awesome as The Fox and Badger Sage Shusaku Endo, I will consider it a life well spent.

  3. And in related news…

    Which kind a reminds me of this (Sorry, caution ahead: there really is no way around the nudely nude”nuttity”)…

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