Chinmoku (Silence) (1971)





Director:     Masahiro Shinoda.

Starring:     Shima Iwashita, Yoshi Kat˘, Don Kenny, David Lampson, Mako (Kichijiro), Noboru Matsuhashi, Junshi Shimada (Karir˘ Yakunin), Tetsur˘ Tanba.

two Portuguese missionaries face torture and death in closed Japan



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

In the early 16th century in Germany Martin Luther became famous for his criticisms of the Catholic Church.  His followers became the beginning of the Protestant religion and created a period of wars between Catholic and Protestant countries in Europe.  In Spain in 1534 Ignacio de Loyola founded the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus).  The Jesuits were just one group making up the Catholic Reformation that fought the further onslaught of Protestantism.  In 1549 the Jesuit Francisco Xavier came to Japan.  Within the short period of 30 years, there were a total of 200 churches, 75 priests and 300,000 Christians in Japan.  This great increase in a western religion on Japanese soil (combined with a fear of western military power) worried the rulers of Japan.  Their answer was to suppress Christianity.  The late 16th century to the middle of the 17th century was a terrible time for Japanese Christians.  Priests, monks and believers were killed, while many Christians just simply disappeared.  Father Ferreira was one of those killed. 

Three men run along side the shore of Japan.  A Japanese man named Kichijiro says that the Padre promised back in Macao to pay him as soon as they reached Japan.  The Padre asks him if he really is a Christian?  Another Padre asks him if he is really Japanese?  Kichijiro says he's Japanese but doesn't mention Christianity.  He starts running and walking and the two Padres follow behind him.  Kichijiro stops to remind the Padres that if the officials come, they are to say that they don't know this man Kichijiro.  He now leaves the two priests. 

The two priests worry about whether or not Kichijiro will ever come back for them?  Garrpe, the bald priest, says he won't return, while the priest with more hair Sebastian Rodriguez tells him to stop worrying for at last they are in Japan.  But Garrpe can't relax.  He continues on until a group of Japanese Christians come to get them.  The spokesman, an older man, tells the priests to put on the Japanese clothes they brought them.  The priests are then taken to a Japanese home where they can speak in private.  The priests will rest there tonight and will be taken into the mountains at dawn. 

At dawn the priests are taken into the mountains to a cave where they will be safe.  The priests ask about other priests and monks, but they learn that there has been none for many years now.  And if the priests are caught, they will be killed, along with all the villagers in Tomogi village.  How does the Catholic faith carry on then?  The older man says that they do all of it the best they can.  Everything has been done in secrecy. 

The priests hold mass right in the cave.  After mass the priests asks what has happened to Padre Ferreira?  He preached Christianity for 20 years in this area.  They know he went to Kyoto, then to Edo (today's Tokyo) and then five years ago he was captured.  The priests say they are from Portugal and Ferreira was the one who taught them theology.  The Japanese keep their heads bowed and say nothing. 

The priests came in June during the rainy season month and more.  The priests decide that they will search for other Christians in the area and perhaps find out the fate of Padre Ferreira.  Writing in his journal Padre Rodriguez observes that the people of the village have a very hard life.  They survive by being fishermen and cultivating only three hectares of land per family.  The land had to be transformed by man and his tools from slopes into terraces and that must have been extremely difficult.  Another burden for them is that they have to pay heavy taxes to the magistrate in Nagasaki. 

A baby is born in the village.  The priests perform their very first baptism in Japan for the child Joseph.   

Alone on a mountain top on a pleasant day the two priests take advantage of the sun and take their shirts off.  The main priest Rodriguez talks about going all the way to Nagasaki in search of Christians who might know about Padre Ferreira.  Padre Garrpe says they must remember they are the only two Catholic priests here and they have a responsibility to make sure they spread the Gospel.  On  another hill the priests think they are being watched by two men.  They jump behind a rock.  The two men shout out to the priests, but they do not attempt to come over to the priests. 

The Japanesevillagers are angry with the priests because they were told never to go outside.  Now they must build a hiding place within the cave where the priests can hide.  Some fishermen come to the cave saying it's been a long time since they have seen a priest.  Garrpe doesn't want the other priest to open the gate for the men, because it might be a trap, but the main priest does open the gate.  Two fishermen come in and say they were the ones watching them from the other mountain top.  One of the villagers asks how the two fishermen from another village knew about the priests?  He holds uu a hoe in his hand to strike the two, if he doesn't get a decent answer.  They say Kichijiro told them.  The two men vouch for Kichijiro saying that he is a Christian.  They say Kichijiro's brother and sister refused to step on an image of Jesus Christ.  They were thrown into prison.  Kichijiro told the authorities that he would renounce the Christian faith.  His brother and sister were burned alive at the stake.  They say they hadn't see Kichijiro for many years and then he just showed up saying it was he who brought the Padres to Japan.  And now Kichijiro is popular in their village.  The two fishermen beg the priests to come to their village so they can hold mass and hear confession. 

At night Padre Rodriguez is rowed out to a little island where the Christian fishermen live.  Kichijiro is there among them.  There is a good turnout of the locals to welcome Padre Rodriguez. After services, an old woman tells a story of the killing of local Christians when eight priests were thrown into the boiling waters at Hell Valley on Mt. Unzen.  The pagans cheered as each priest was thrown into the waters.  Uneme Takenaka and Matsukura were the very embodiment of evil, she says. She also tells how the pagans burned two priests alive.  She adds that today the villagers are in similar danger thanks to Magistrate Inoue, who is the devil incarnate. 

Kichijiro rows Padre Rodriguez back to the mainland.  The priest has Kichijiro swear to him that he will never renounce the faith again, regardless of the pressures put upon him.  Kichijiro says:  "I swear!"   He says he is a weak man and renounced his faith earlier because he could not bear the pain of the torture.  As the two men approach the village a runner comes out to warn them that the officials are in the village!  They don't know about the priests yet, so the priests must hide themselves.  The messenger says he will take them to find Garrpe who is already in hiding.

The villagers are being rounded up by the authorities.  The officer says there are reports of Christians living in the village.  It's 100 pieces of silver to anyone who picks out the Christians.  They take the old man and tie his hands behind his back and take him as hostage until the village reveals who are the Christians.  If they do not, the officer will be back in three days to take more hostages. 

Father Rodriguez worries that after awhile all the villages will have become hostages.  Two villagers tell him that is alright, but Garrpe says the priests can't allow that to happen.  They would rather leave Tomogi Village. 

Kichijiro says that they can't go to his island because the authorities will put them under the same hostage system as that at the Tomigo village.  The priests will have to go a long ways away to escape the local authorities. 

The officer comes back and says that they have an informer who says Christians are in the village.  So, is the informer lying or are all the villagers lying?  He will take three more hostages.  If these three swear that they are not Christians, they will be allowed to return to the village. 

The three hostages plus the old man taken earlier now are asked if they are Christians?.  The old man says they are not.  So the official in charge brings out a carving of the Virgin Mary and tells the four men to step on it.  Each man reluctantly steps on the image.  Seeing their reluctance, the official says now they have to spit on the image and declare that the Virgin Mary is a whore.  Only one of the men spits on the image.  The three who did not are tied to  crosses and placed in the sea at low tide.  As the high tide comes in they will all drown.  Thinking about this terrible deed, Kichijiro goes screaming while he runs down the dirt road. 

The authorities come looking for the priests.  With guides the priests run away.  Padre Rodriguez circles around and back to the village.  He sees a man hanged and the family burned alive in their burned house.  The priest puts on a red robe and goes walking around.  He finds an abandoned fire and sees a villager running around the rocks.  It's Kichijiro.  The priest seems to want to be caught.  Kichijiro follows him up to the top of a hill.  From there they can see that the whole village is now burning.  Padre Rodriguez says to Kichijiro:  "And you were spared.  Only you."  Kichijiro tells Padre Rodriguez that they are offering 300 pieces of silver for the capture of the main priest.  The priest tells him that Christ was sold out for only 30 pieces of silver. 

As it gets dark Kichijiro prepares a dinner for Padre Rodriguez.  The hungry priest eats the food very quickly.  The next day the two walk along the cliffs overlooking the sea.  The priest gets very thirsty and asks Kichijiro to take him to a river.  The priest walks down to the sea side.  Kichijiro brings him some water to drink.  He asks the priest why did he run off?  Doesn't the priest trust him?  The priest just says that it's just that he is so very, very tired.  He just wants to be left alone.  Kichijiro now tells him that he can take the priest to a village where there are Christians and non-Japanese Padres.  The priest doesn't believe him.  Kichijiro says he is weak and couldn't sacrifice himself as did some of the hostages.  The priest has Kichijiro kneel before him and repeat a prayer after the priest says it. 

As they say the prayer, up comes the authorities.  They grab the priest and take him with them and leave Kichijiro there on the beach.  The pagans cheer at the arrest of the priest.  They notice he is a very tall man and say he is evil.  They throw stones at him, but lightly.  Kichijiro is in amongst the crowd, but stays silent. 

At night, they tie Padre Rodriguez to a tree.  A group comes to take possession of the priest.  A man comes over to the priest and says hello to the Padre in English. The priest says he knows how to speak Japanese.  The official says he studied at a seminary, but he is not a Christian.  He just wanted to succeed in life.  A samurai may take up arms or get an education.  He chose education. The official asks, knowing that the priest knew Christianity was forbidden in Japan, why did he come?  The Padre says he is ready to become a martyr and asks if the Christians were such trouble makers for the Japanese government?  The official responds:  "We have our own religion, we don't need yours." 

On the way to Nagasaki, the official happens to mention the name of Father Ferreira.  Is he still alive?  Yes.  He has a fine house and a fine wife.  Rodriguez says:  "I don't believe it!"  The official retorts that now the Padre interrogates the Christians for the authorities.  He laughs loudly.  In Nagasaki Rodriguez is put in a jail cell.  They give him to wear wome sacred garments of a Buddhist priest.  In his new clothes he is walked through a yard where women are picking up weeds.  They appear to be Christians too, so the priest goes directly up to them and converses with them in Japanese.

Padre is taken to an investigation room.  Lord Chikugo will ask him questions.  Rodriguez says that if Christianity does not grow in Japan, it is because Japan lacks a certain degree of civilization.  He then asks why do they bother to question him when no matter what he says he will be executed?  He says in the old days Inoue would have just taken him out immediately and had him executed.  The Japanese in the room have a hardy laugh at this and the Padre wants to know why?  Because:  "That is Inoue, Lord of Chikugo, sitting there before you." 

Kichijiro goes to a Geisha house.  His Geisha says it will cost him 300 mon to have her.  She then notices that he is crying and she wants to know why?  He should forget it, whatever it is.  He says some things are not so easy to forget.  He did something worse than murder.  She takes her robe off and lays Kichijiro down.  He tells her to spit in his face and he will give her all the money he has.  If she doesn't spit in his face, he will never be able to forgive himself.  So, she spits in his face. 

The jailer tells everyone that they have something for their enjoyment in the courtyard.  A man and a woman are tied to posts.  The two must renounce Christianity or they will be beaten with sticks.  Neither will renounce, so they are beaten very hard.  After they are beaten they are left outside in the rain.  Kichijiro comes by and asks what's going on here, but the jailer chases him away.  He comes back and sneaks inside the jail.  He tells the Padre that he wants to confess.  He wants forgiveness for stepping on the image of Jesus.  The jailer comes in to take Kichijiro out, but now Kichijiro says he's a Christian.  So the jailer puts the man in the cell next to the priest.    Kichijiro keeps crying and asking for forgiveness.

Lord Chikugo debates with the priest about Christianity and monogamy.  His own thought is not that Christianity is bad in and of itself, but because it splits the Japanese people into two different groups.

The couple who refuses to renounce Christianity is told that they can renounce Christianity as a mere formality, but go on believing in Christianity.  They won't do it.  So the husband is buried up to his head in the ground.  A horseman now rides back and forth over the head with his horse.  The wife finally gives in and steps on the carving of the Virgin Mary.  Her husband cries about this, but he is released.  He now says he will renounce his faith.  The guards take him away.  He is killed with the samurai short blade. 

They bring out another fellow, Kichijiro, and he agrees immediately to step on the Virgin Mary.  He does so and is told now to get out.  The wife of the dead samurai is put in a cell.  The Christians start to taunt her by banging on their wooden slats (instead of bars). 

The next morning the jailer says that the Padre is leaving.   Rodriguez asks where are all the other prisoners?  They are standing before the Magistrate.  They take Rodriguez down and put him in irons attached to a post.  Father Garrpe is brought out along with two Japanese men.  One of the men is taken by small boat out to a larger boat.  The fellow is then made to walk the plank so to speak and jump into the water with his arms and hands bound together behind his back.  Father Garrpe manages to get free of his ropes and he swims out to the larger boat to try to save the other fellow.  But the Japanese on the boat keep pushing him down and down into the water with their long poles.  Now Rodriguez is retold that if he renounces his faith the Christian farmers will not be killed.  He won't renounce, so he is taken back to his cell.

In the jail cell Rodriguez asks the pretty widow what's her name?  Monica.  She asks Padre what would he do if he were in her situation?  He says she did all she could do and God will forgive her. 

In the Geisha house, the Geisha who was with Kichijiro before tells him that another bound-up Christian woman's body was found washed up on the beach.  She remarks:  "How cruel!"  And yet despite all this, the Christians keep believing in their God.  Kichijiro is crying again.  She asks him if he was at one time a Christian?  She adds that she doesn't care if he is or isn't a Christian.  He runs over to the window.  The woman says it's a tough world!  Kichijiro cries:  "Really tough!  Too tough!"

Father Ferreira is brought in to meet Rodriguez.  Rodriguez shouts at him:  "You are refuting yourself!"  He asks Ferreira what is this place?  It's a Buddhist temple.  He also asks Ferreira if he is happy?  The Japanese interrogator tells Rodriguez not to call Lord Sawano, Padre Ferreira, for he has renounced his Christian faith and now has taken a Japanese name, Chuan Sawano.  He now writes another book about the errors in Christianity, called The Falsehoods Revealed.   Lord Sawano says he is of great use to the people of Japan.  He has introduced astronomy to them.  Rodriguez says:  "You are merciless."  Finally, Sawano says that he came here to ask Padre Rodriguez to renounce his Christianity.  Rodriguez shouts no, no.  Sawano has him look at his scars.  The interrogator explains that Sawano's arms and legs were bound and he was hung in the pit upside down.  Then they started cutting holes behind his ears so the blood would trickle out, thereby keeping him alive (as the blood rushed to the head). 

Father Ferreira leaves the room.  Father Rodriguez walks over to him in the next room. Ferreira says that this country is like a swamp more terrifying than they ever imagined. All seedlings planted in it will rot, including Christianity.  He says this is not because of Our God, but because of the Japanese gods.  Even the Japanese who become Christian, they still worship the Kannon Buddha as Mary.  The Japanese change the Christian God into something quit different.     

The next day the interrogator takes Rodriguez to see the Magistrate. Kichijiro shows up and asks Padre Rodriguez for forgiveness.  He came to confess.

The padre is put back in a jail cell.  A huge fellow is put in the cell with him.  He strips down the Padre to a few essentials and then ties his feet and his hands.  A dwarf now puts holes in his head behind his ears.  Now they hang Rodriguez up by his feet.  His head and body are now lowered into the pit. 

Kichijiro walks into the sea. 

Later Rodriguez is put back in his regular cell.  Lord Sawano says thy held him in the pit for two whole days.  He didn't renounce the Christian God because of the torture, but because God never answered the prayers that he so intensely prayed to Him.  Now he goes after Rodriguez.  He could save those poor Christian farmers if he just renounced his faith, but he just sits there doing nothing while they suffer.  He says if Christ were here he would renounce His faith for the sake of those men, for the sake of love. 

The interrogator comes back and asks Lord Sawano if the Padre is ready to step on the carving of the Jesus Christ?   Padre Rodriguez does come out and he does step on the image of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Three western ships have come into Nagasaki Harbor.  Is this object Christian or just secular?  Lord Sawano says secular.  Padre Rodriguez agrees.

Now Rodriguez gets put into another cell.  This is a cell containing the widow of the killed Christian samurai.  He grabs the woman and starts tearing her clothes off.  He has sex with her.  Sebastian Rodriguez now gets a new name:  Sanemon Okada. 


The director Masahiro Shinoda shows the Japanese precursor to the inhumane treatment of war prisoners and other opponents that Japan tortured during WWII.  In that war they acted in war worse than Hitler.  The Germans treated the Allied Prisoners more humanely than the Japanese ever did.  (This does not include the Holocaust which went on and on separate of what decisions were made about the Second World War.)   The Japanese loved to use Allied prisoners as slaves and let them starve to death or die of various untreated diseases, etc.  And the Japanese loved to torture people.  There's just something about fascists and torture.  They do love it so. 

The director goes back to the 1500s when Japan tried to stamp out the Christian faith in the country.  In doing this they used all kinds of tortures to get the information they wanted in order to stomp out the Christians.  And there is quite a bit of torture shown in this film.  On the web-site Cinema-Talk the reviewer really hated the film.  For instance, he/she says that about half the film was about torture.  I would say it's more like a quarter.  But that was an important subject in 1971 when the film was done because the Japanese so heavily used torture in WWII. 

The reviewer says that it was at times too talky.  But there were only a couple or maybe three little discussions that really weren't all that bad.  And I think it was justified.  In the film a good Christian Padre gives up his Christian faith and becomes a good Japanese citizen.  But the next Padre that came couldn't believe that the previous Padre renounced his faith.  There had to be a duel between the two of them over religious philosophy.  After all, here are two men of faith who believe in spreading a Gospel.  Of course, they are going to duke it out verbally. 

I thought the film was interesting in that I learned just how cruel were the Japanese in crushing Christianity.  You appreciate the sacrifice of those Christians who came over as priests or monks so much more than just reading a paragraph or two about how ruthless the Japanese authorities could be.

Yeah, there was a bit much of torture in the film, but I tell you, in these historical movies, I saw a hell of a lot of movies dealing with lots of torture.  If you really are a fan of historical movies, you have to take a big dose of that castor oil of man's inhumanity to man.   Sometimes it does get discouraging.  I have laid off the Holocaust films for quite a while now because I needed a psychological break from that terrible event with oh so terrible endings.  Oh, one guy or gal gets saved.  Yeah, but everybody else got eliminated.  That's not a happy ending to me. 

The movie is worth watching.  Just be tolerant of the torture episodes.  You could fast forward them a bit.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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