Title

× Close

The Reel

Noteworthy in Cinema & TV

BOOKS IN MOVIES

Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Catholic connection to the atomic bomb

The period drama portrays the 17th century persecution of Jesuit missionaries and their converts in Japan.

Martin Scorsese’s Silence will have its premiere at the Vatican, where it will be screened to hundreds of Roman Catholic priests. The famed director’s first foray into East Asia links to familiar themes of Catholic guilt and redemption, as he portrays the brutal 17th century persecution of Jesuit missionaries and their converts in Japan.

Play
‘Silence’.

Scorsese’s film, which will be released in the United States of America on December 23, is an adaptation of Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel Silence. It tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan at a time when Christianity was banned to find their mentor (Liam Neeson) and support the local converts. The pair are imprisoned and tortured.

A pieta ‘fumi-e’ image, from Nagasaki 1923. Credit: National Library Australia.
A pieta ‘fumi-e’ image, from Nagasaki 1923. Credit: National Library Australia.

The characters of the priests Cristóvão Ferreira and Sebastian Rodrigues were based on Portuguese and Italian Jesuits found in the historical record. Endo’s novel describes the hostile environment that leads to the missionary priests’ relinquishment of faith. They were forced to place their feet on fumi-e (religious images) to demonstrate that they had given up all faith. Rodrigues (played by Garfield in the film), believes he hears Jesus’s voice telling him to apostatise by stepping on the fumi-e.

The remaining Christians went underground. The persecution continued until the ban against Christians was removed in 1873. But the indigenous Japanese who returned to Catholicism in the 1870s after 250 years of “hidden Christianity” remembered their long period of “betrayal”.

A painting of the ruin of Urakami Cathedral drawn by Nagai Takashi. Credit: Author provided by permission of Nagai Tokusaburo, director of the Nagai Takashi Memorial Museum
A painting of the ruin of Urakami Cathedral drawn by Nagai Takashi. Credit: Author provided by permission of Nagai Tokusaburo, director of the Nagai Takashi Memorial Museum

Most descendants of the native Christians lived in Nagasaki during World War II. On August 9, 1945, when the United States dropped the A-bomb on Urakami, a northern suburb of Nagasaki, 8,500 of the 12,000-strong Catholic Christian community were amongst the dead. The bomb was meant to target Nagasaki city, but because the Americans were low on fuel and clouds opened above the northern suburbs, the eventual Ground Zero happened in Urakami. Its cathedral – the biggest Catholic church in Asia at the time – was only 500 metres from Ground Zero.

Nagasaki Catholics remember the A-bomb in particular ways, as I show in my research on memory in Nagasaki. My work has involved interviewing nine Catholic survivors of the atomic bombing, as well as three other non-Catholic survivors, and members of the Urakami community.

The Catholic interviewees explained that their grandparents had been exiled to other regions of Japan in the 1860s and 1870s due to their return to Catholicism after 250 years of “hidden Christianity”.

One interviewee, Matsuo Sachiko, explained that her grandmother was a double survivor, having first survived the Christian exile (referred to as the 4th exile) imposed by the government in 1867-73 and then later, the 1945 atomic bombing. She says:

Yes… my grandmother was one of the Urakami Fourth Exile survivors and at that time there were still some of those survivors who were alive… these people still believed, everyone was able to stick at it and get through… Within their testimony, they didn’t talk about their pain.

Matsuo Sachiko pictured in 2014. Credit: Author provided
Matsuo Sachiko pictured in 2014. Credit: Author provided

Orphaned Ozaki Tōmei adopted a new name after the bombing, as a novice at a Polish monastery in Nagasaki. Normally Japanese monks would adopt the name of a Western saint, but he selected a Japanese saint, Ozaki Tōmei, who is a child martyr of 1597 from Nagasaki.

Ozaki remembered his mother telling him that the 26 martyrs of 1597 were marched directly past his childhood home in the middle of winter on the way to their execution. The child martyr Ozaki had been separated from his mother and was marched to Nagasaki from Kyoto. Along the way, he was able to write a letter to his mother, in which he reflected on the “transience of the world”.

My informant Ozaki linked his own experience to this boy of 1597, writing:

The experience of the atomic bombing was exactly like that. Everything in the world is breakable and vanishes. As far as the atom bomb went, there was nothing to be known of reality which was not destroyed. Koware-iku sonzai ni tayotte wa naranai. We cannot depend on a life so fragile. Nonetheless, after that, staring at reality, what I saw was the indestructible God’s existence. The Lord God who holds all created things, the source of love and life is the God I know. This is also the source of faith.

Brother Ozaki Tomei. Credit: Author provided
Brother Ozaki Tomei. Credit: Author provided

Despite the destruction around him and the tragic loss of his mother, Ozaki, orphaned monk and survivor of the atomic bombing, held on to the faith of his ancestors.

His resilience might be considered one fruit of the missionaries whose ambivalent lives are depicted by Scorsese in Silence. Ozaki turned 88 this year and continues to write prolifically on his blog.

Silence was originally controversial amongst Christians in Japan for the perceived faithlessness of its priest protagonists. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s film version – which has taken 27 years to make – is eagerly awaited in Nagasaki, where the descendants of the hidden Christians still continue to be a practising community of faith.

Adam Driver in ‘Silence’. Credit: Cappa Defina Productions.
Adam Driver in ‘Silence’. Credit: Cappa Defina Productions.

Gwyn McClelland, Oral historian and associate, Japanese history, Monash University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

Making transportation more sustainable even with fuel-based automobiles

These innovations can reduce the pollution caused by vehicles.

According to the WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution Database released in 2016, ten of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, with Gwalior and Ahmedabad occupying the second and third positions. Pollution levels are usually expressed in the levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air. This refers to microscopic matter that is a mixture of smoke, metals, chemicals and dust suspended in the atmosphere that can affect human health. Particulate matter is easily inhaled, and can cause allergies and diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Indian cities have some of the highest levels of PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter). The finer the particulate matter, the deeper into your lungs it can penetrate causing more adverse effects. According to WHO, the safe limits for PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Emissions resulting from transportation is regarded as one of the major contributors to pollution levels, especially particulate matter. A study conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science estimated that the transport sector constitutes 32% of Delhi’s emissions. It makes up 43% of Chennai’s emissions, and around 17% of Mumbai’s emissions.

Controlling emissions is a major task for cities and auto companies. The Indian government, to this end, has set emission standards for automobiles called the Bharat Stage emission standard, which mirrors European standards. This emission standard was first instituted in 1991 and has been regularly updated to follow European developments with a time lag of about 5 years. Bharat Stage IV emission norms have been the standard in 2010 in 13 major cities. To tackle air pollution that has intensified since then, the Indian government announced that Bharat Stage V norms would be skipped completely, and Stage VI norms would be adopted directly in 2020.

But sustainability in transport requires not only finding techniques to reduce the emissions from public and private transport but also developing components that are environment friendly. Car and auto component manufacturers have begun optimising products to be gentler on the environment and require lesser resources to manufacture, operate and maintain.

There are two important aspects of reducing emissions. The first is designing vehicles to consume less fuel. The second is making the emissions cleaner by reducing the toxic elements.

In auto exteriors, the focus is on developing light-weight but strong composite materials to replace metal. A McKinsey study estimates that plastic and carbon fibre can reduce weight by about 20% and 50% respectively. A lighter body reduces the engine effort and results in better fuel economy. Additionally, fuel efficiency can be increased by reducing the need for air conditioning which puts additional load on the vehicle engine thereby increasing fuel consumption. Automotive coatings (paints) and sheets provide better insulation, keep the vehicle cool and reduce the use of air conditioning.

Most emissions are the result of inefficient engines. Perhaps the most significant innovations in making automobiles and mass transport systems more eco-friendly are being done in the engine. Innovations include products like fuel additives, which improve engine performance, resist corrosion and reduce fuel consumption while offering a great driving experience, and catalytic converters that reduce toxic emissions by converting them to less harmful output such as carbon dioxide, Nitrogen and water. Some of these catalytic converters are now capable of eliminating over 90 percent of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

All of these are significant measures to bring the negative impacts of vehicular pollution under control. With over 2 million vehicles being produced in India in 2015 alone and the moving to BS VI emission standards, constant innovation is imperative.

Beyond this, in commercial as well as passenger vehicles, companies are innovating with components and processes to enable higher resource efficiency. Long-lasting paint coatings, made of eco-friendly materials that need to be refreshed less often are being developed. Companies are also innovating with an integrated coating process that enables carmakers to cut out an entire step of coating without compromising the colour result or the properties of the coating, saving time, materials and energy. Efforts are being made to make the interiors more sustainable. Parts like the instrument panel, dashboard, door side panels, seats, and locks can all be created with material like polyurethane plastic that is not only comfortable, durable and safe but also easily recyclable. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting polyurethane plastic like BASF’s Elastollan® for these very reasons.

From pioneering the development of catalytic converters in 1975 to innovating with integrated process technology for coatings, BASF has always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to making transport solutions more sustainable. The company has already developed the technology to handle the move of emissions standards from BS IV to BS VI.

For the future, given the expected rise in the adoption of electric cars—an estimated 5~8 percent of car production is expected to be pure electric or plug-in electric vehicles by 2020—BASF is also developing materials that enable electric car batteries to last longer and achieve higher energy density, making electronic mobility more feasible. To learn more about how BASF is making transport more sustainable, see here.

Watch the video to see how automotive designers experimented with cutting edge materials from BASF to create an innovative concept car.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.

× Close