Silence [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Japan - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (4th September 2017).
The Film

“Silence” (2016)

The year is 1640. Two young Portuguese priests receive word that their mentor Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson) who was on a mission in Japan had renounced his faith. Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (played by Adam Driver) are shocked by the news and find the information impossible to believe, so they set course for Japan to find the truth of the matter. The two are smuggled into Japan by a fishing boat with the stranded Japanese fisherman Kichijiro (played by Yosuke Kubozuka), who leads them to the village of Tomogi, where villagers live in secret as Christians fearing the governing warlords. Although Rodrigues and Garupe’s mission is to find Ferreira, it seems clear that their mission is far greater as many living in secrecy are begging for their help. As both witness the persecution and torture of the Christians by the samurai, the men bound by God must endure the hardest test ever faced - survival.

Christianity began in Japan with Francis Xavier’s arrival in 1549, establishing churches in Nagasaki. During the reign of daimyo Oda Nobunaga the Christian religion was seen favorably alongside the established Buddhist and Shinto religions, though that would change in the later part of the century. Under the rule of daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Christianity was starting to be seen as a western threat to traditional Japan, dividing the people and dividing the nation. In 1597, twenty-six Christians, four Spaniards, one Mexican, and one Indian, three Japanese Jesuits, and seventeen Japanese converts were sentenced to death by crucifixion, under the order of Toyotomi. Stabbed by spears as they hung on crosses, three of the executed were children. For the next few decades, Christianity had difficulty spreading its word in the increasingly strict country as persecutions and eradication continued. It would take more than 300 years after the arrival of Xavier that Japan would formally recognize freedom of religion, where Christianity was able to be practiced in the country where it was banned for so long.

Author Shusaku Endo was one of the most influential writers in the post WWII period, and unusually wrote many of his stories through a Christian mindset, whether the characters were Christian or the themes were Christian influenced. His 1966 novel “Silence” is his most famous work and most critically lauded worldwide, with a Japanese adaptation of the film by director Masahiro Shinoda in 1971 under the title “Chinmoku” AKA “Silence” and a Portuguese adaptation 1996 with “The Eyes of Asia”, which was loosely based off the book. 2016 saw the completion of Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of “Silence”, which was the director’s dream project for nearly three decades. Introduced to the book following the production of “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988, Scorsese vowed to make a feature film on the subject. Raised a Roman Catholic, many of Scorsese’s films have had religious overtones - “Who’s That Knockin’ at My Door”, “Mean Streets”, “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, and in addition “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Kundun” were directly religious biopics of Jesus Christ and the Dalai Lama respectively. Scorsese was also highly influenced by Japanese cinema from a young age and has cited that “Ugetsu” was the first Japanese film he had seen and left an indelible mark on him visually and contextually.

Production and casting formally began in 2009 though it would stay in development hell for years as productions for
“Shutter Island”, “Hugo”, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” would take center stage. Following the completion of his most financially successful film “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Scorsese made it clear that “Silence” would be his next production. An international co-production, the film was mostly shot in Taiwan due to budgetary reasons, with 1600s Japan being meticulously recreated. As the shoot was mostly done on location on the tropical island in remote areas, the production team had to endure the forces of nature - grueling heat, typhoons, mudslides, rainfall, all changing day by day for the 73 day shoot. Production crews from Taiwan, Japan, Hollywood, and Europe grouped together for the film that would be in a 7 to 3 ratio of English and Japanese dialogue, with a mostly Japanese cast. The original casting of the three Portuguese priests was Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael García Bernal, and Benicio Del Toro, but that would be later cast as Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver. It was a physically challenging project for Garfield and Driver who lost around 50 pounds each for the roles, and had to do an intensive amount of location shooting. Garfield extensively researched about Jesuit priesthood for the production and his performance truly shines in the lead. Driver gets second billing and like in the original novel and the 1971 film, his character of Garupe does not get enough screentime to truly get an emotional impact, but his final sacrifice does come as an emotional blow for Rodrigues. Neeson gets the least amount of screentime but does make a certain impact in his brief moment. Filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto as Mokichi also gives a well rounded performance as the brave Christian villager, while Yosuke Kubozuka as the weak minded Kichijiro gives a manic performance that is easy to hate as a character but shows the element of how religion is not necessarily for everyone to follow. As for the samurai, Issei Ogata who plays Inoue gives a very memorable performance as the warlord who is ordering the persecutions. Like a cartoon he is evil yet comical that could be easily laughed at with his way of speaking and his demeanor, though is seen as one that could easily order a kill in a heartbeat. Though with the goings on in North Korea or America these days, leaders that are cartoonishly evil may not be that much of a stretch. Tadanobu Asano as the interpreter also gives a staggeringly good performance as a middleman who tries to give sense and logic to Father Rodrigues during the interrogation process. Interesting to note that Asano failed the initial audition process for the film but continued to push for a role in the film, and thankfully he was cast in a very fitting position. One aspect that plagues the film is the language. In historical context the priests spoke Portuguese and did prayers in Latin. In this film as well as the original 1971 film the priests speak English. Even at one point the interpreter played by Asano states that he is adept in Portuguese translation. Though for some reason he speaks Japanese and English? Movie magic!

Scorsese’s direction in “Silence” is very different from his previous films. There are no flashy camera work. There is no major use of CGI. There are no visual tricks. Taking cues from the Japanese masters, there is a lot of influence from Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa, and Yasujiro Ozu in the visual style. There are many lengthy scenes of characters like a Mizoguchi production, long lens visuals in the vein of Kurosawa, and minimal camera movement or stillness as found in Ozu films. The use of colors is especially striking, with the costume design, the outdoor sets, and the natural beauty of the countryside. An incredibly well crafted film, it certainly is a Scorsese production without being like any other Scorsese production to date, and it’s impressive that the director at the age of 74 could continue to challenge himself.

Japan is a country that does not view religion as a “way of life” but as a “part of life”. Religion is not considered “truth” to most but as stories providing moral values to society. The average Japanese will visit to Shinto shrines, pray at Buddhist temples, and exchange Christmas presents as if they are all part of one culture. Religious fanatics may gasp as to blasphemy for not following a single faith but who is to say one is the truth over the other, or if any are the truth at all? Japan in the last 150 years has grasped the concept of religion very differently, as the Meiji restoration opened doors to the west, and the fall of the Japanese Empire in World War II led to the idea that the Emperor is not in fact a god but a man, completely changing the mindsets of younger generations from the older. Christianity is still considered a fairly minor religion in Japan. Even though churches are found, they pale in comparison to temples or shrines which are also considered tourist spots in outdoor environments while Christian churches are enclosed and set apart. Another issue is the forcefulness of Christianity compared to the other major religions in Japan. There are in fact Jehovah’s Witnesses that knock on doors, there are Christians that give out pamphlets on the streets, and there are vans with megaphones driven by Christian groups that tell people that not believing in the Holy Bible will not lead to salvation. They are annoying tactics that most Japanese ignore, and very different from the Buddhist or Shinto teachings or followers that do not try conversion tactics to force people to pick one or the other. “Silence” does raise questions. It is absolutely horrifying and deplorable that the warlords were ordering executions based on religious beliefs. But was it right to enter a country and forcefully feed a religion to the people? Is it right to renounce a religion for survival? Do religions cause more damage than having none?

The film was first screened for the Vatican on November 29th 2016 and a limited American release on December 23rd 2016. A wider release followed in January 2017 as well as other countries worldwide in early 2017. While well acclaimed and released in time for awards season the film surprisingly fell flat, only earning one Academy Award nomination for Cinematography for Rodrigo Prieto. The religious subject matter also failed to attract audiences grossing only $23.7 million worldwide on a budget of $50 million. Like Scorsese’s other religious biographies, “Silence” is bound to be remembered as one of the director’s finest films even if it doesn’t have the grab of his more famous entertaining works.

Note the Blu-ray is a region ALL disc which can play back on any Blu-ray player worldwide, while the DVDs are region 2 NTSC discs which can only play back on region 2 or region free Blu-ray or DVD players

Video

Sony Pictures presents the film on Blu-ray in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Shot mostly on film, the transfer looks absolutely perfect. Colors are vibrant and beautiful, detail in the frame is sharp, and there are no issues of damage or errors in the image. The landscapes, the costumes, the indoor locations are absolutely exceptional looking. There is basically nothing to fault.

The DVD copy presents the film in anamorphic 2.40:1 in the NTSC format. Coming from the same master the standard definition lacks the depth and colors of the high definition transfer, but overall looks very satisfying.

The film’s runtime on the Blu-ray is 160:56 and on the DVD is 160:46.

Audio

English/Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English/Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1

The original English and Japanese mixed soundtrack is presented in lossless 5.1 on the Blu-ray. It’s a very active track with subtle effects and music taking the use of the surround channels while dialogue is always centered at the front. Dialogue is always easy to hear with no major issues. The scene with Motokichi on the cross does have some audio issues but most likely due to the harsh condition that it was shot in, rather than being dubbed over in studio. The DVD copy has the audio in standard Dolby Digital 5.1. It again lacks the depth of the lossless audio track but still sounds very good.

There are optional English HoH, Japanese (for English portions), Japanese HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. The English subtitles both caption the English language track as well as the Japanese portions so English speakers must manually turn on/off the subtitles whenever appropriate which may seem troublesome. The first Japanese track is the default track, which subtitles the English portions only. There is also a hard-of-hearing Japanese track which subtitles all the dialogue. The Japanese subtitle font is standard, but the choice of the English font is a little unusual, looking like the Mincho font making the lettering taller rather than wider.

Extras

Sony Japan has released “Silence” in two editions - a Premium Edition which has a Blu-ray, a DVD copy, and two bonus DVDs. The standard edition is just the Blu-ray disc. The following is the breakdown of the Premium Edition.

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)
The Blu-ray has the film with the following features:

"Martin Scorsese's Journey Into Silence" featurette (24:30)
This featurette is a very good general overview of the production. From Scorsese’s first encounter with the book, a historical analysis by historians, on the adaptation from book to screen, interviews with the cast and crew, behind the scenes footage and more are presented.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1/2.40:1, in English/Japanese DTS 5.1 with optional Japanese subtitles

Trailers
The following trailers are presented:

- US version cut down 30sec (0:33)
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 2.40:1, in English/Japanese DTS 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles

- US version cut down 60sec (1:03)
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 2.40:1, in English/Japanese DTS 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles

- Japanese Theatrical Trailer (2:49)
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.40:1, in English/Japanese DTS 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles

- Japanese Trailer 90sec (1:33)
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 2.40:1, in English/Japanese DTS 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles

TV Spots
The following TV spots are presented:

- Story (0:18)
- Completed Film (0:18)

in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 2.40:1, in English/Japanese DTS 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles


DISC TWO (DVD)
The second disc has the film plus the same extras as the Blu-ray disc:

"Martin Scorsese's Journey Into Silence" featurette (24:29)
in 480i NTSC, in anamorphic 1.78/2.40:1, in English/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional Japanese subtitles

Trailers
- US version cut down 30sec (0:33)
- US version cut down 60sec (1:03)
- Japanese Theatrical Trailer (2:49)
- Japanese Trailer 90sec (1:33)

in 480i NTSC, in anamorphic 2.40:1, in English/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles

TV Spots
- Story (0:18)
- Completed Film (0:18)

in 480i NTSC, in anamorphic 2.40:1, in English/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles


DISC THREE (DVD)

Martin Scorsese & Cast Press Conference (13:33)
This press conference in Tokyo on October 19th 2016 has Martin Scorsese along with actors Yosuke Kubozuka and Tadanobu Asano promoting the film for the press and taking questions.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles for the English portions

Martin Scorsese Interview (15:28)
In this interview Scorsese talks about the experience shooting the film, details on some of the characters, and the influence Japanese cinema had on his work. He also mentions that post-production has not been completed yet so this interview was most likely done around the same time as the previous extra.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles

Yosuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata Press Conference (22:41)
At the Foreign Correspondents Press Conference on January 12th 2017, the three actors speak about their experience shooting the film, working with Scorsese, the importance of freedom of religion, and more.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles for the English portions

"L.A. Premiere" featurette (20:32)
The Los Angeles premiere was held on January 5th 2017 and this featurette includes interviews with Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Jay Cocks, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and actors Tadanobu Asano, Yosuke Kubozuka, Issei Ogata, Andrew Garfield, and Shinya Tsukamoto.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English/Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles for the English portions

Martin Scorsese Press Conference (15:00)
This solo press conference with Scorsese was at the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo on January 16th 2017. He discusses about the Vatican’s reaction to the film and the importance of wanting to make the film for many years.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles for the English portions

Japan Premiere Stage Greeting (24:34)
The Japanese premiere was held on January 17th 2017 at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, Scorsese is joined by Kubozuka, Asano, Ogata, Tsukamoto, and actors Nana Komatsu and Ryo Kase, with each person giving a few minute greeting to the fans who came to see the film.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles for the English portions

Japan Theatrical Release Stage Greeting (19:54)
Asano, Ogata, Tsukamoto, and Komatsu greet the audience at the Scala-za theater in Ginza, Tokyo on opening day January 21st 2017.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Yosuke Kubozuka Interview (16:31)
Kubozuka talks about the audition process, the challenges faced with portraying Kichijiro, and working with Scorsese on the film.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Tadanobu Asano Interview (14:31)
Asano talks about how his first failed audition did not make him give up hope on being cast for the film, the complexity of the interpreter’s character, and more.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Ryunosuke Endo Interview (4:44)
The eldest son of author Shusaku Endo is interviewed, as he talks about the Scorsese’s adaptation with praise.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Munea Kato Interview (4:06)
The biographer of Shusaku Endo discusses the casting of the film.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Promotional featurette (3:58)
An EPK featurette that includes interview clips and behind the scenes which is made up of footage and clips from featurettes and interviews included in this set. If you have seen all the extras prior to this one, there is nothing new, but it is a fairly well rounded featurette. Watching this featurette first is probably the best introduction to the film without a lot of spoilers.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in Japanese subtitles for the English portions


DISC FOUR (DVD)

"Scorsese's Challenge for Silence - Reviving Shusaku Endo's World" NHK BS1 TV documentary
- Part 1 (48:52)
- Part 2 (48:59)

This lengthy TV documentary in two parts. The first part focuses on the making of the film with interviews with Scorsese, behind the scenes footage, as well as a biography of Shusaku Endo with Shinya Tsukamoto visiting many of the historical locations in Japan. The second part introduces Scorsese’s connection to “Ugetsu” and the film’s restoration, a university class in Utah teaching the complexities of the book, and more. Some of the interviews are subtitled in Japanese while others have Japanese voice-over. There is a disclaimer that the documentary has been edited and is not the same as what was originally broadcast.
in anamorphic 1.78:1 /2.40:1, in Japanese and English Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned in Japanese subtitles for the English portions

Book
The set includes a 58 page book with essays, production notes, and photos. There is a short introduction to the film, a timeline and essay on author Shusaku Endo, a timeline and essay on Martin Scorsese, the setting in the Nagasaki area where the story took place, reviews by various journalists, and production notes - all in Japanese.

There is a lengthy amount of extras included in this Japanese set - much more than the US release wich only had one featurette. But quantity is not always quality, with many of the press conferences and featurettes repeating too much information again and again. The NHK TV documentary is excellent and that’s a shame it is not available elsewhere besides the Japanese Premium Edition. Also note that many of the extras are not completely English friendly which may not be so enticing to non-Japanese speakers.

Packaging

The set is packaged in a digipack case in a slip box which also houses the book.

Overall

“Silence” is a difficult and disturbing experience knowing that it is depicting a true story behind the persecutions of many people because of religious differences. It may have happened in the 1600s in Japan but the issue still continues in the modern world in many places. Scorsese has crafted a genuinely personal film through his love of Japanese cinema and his Christian upbringing, and completely succeeds. The Japanese Premium Edition set contains a wealth of extras but note for English speaking audiences that about half of the extras are not English friendly. The set still comes as very recommended.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A

 


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