Tag Archives: Japan

Silence (2016)

I’m a sucker for movies about the supernatural, the occult, a higher power, God (or gods) and faith. And so when I heard one of the greatest directors of all-time, Martin Scorsese, was making Silence, a film about 1600 Jesuit priests in Japan starring Spider-Man, Kylo Ren and Qui-Gon Jinn, I was like “Sign me up!”

I intentionally avoided reading too much info about the movie, and thankfully the fantastic trailer did not reveal anything major. Accordingly, I did not know what to expect going in, and boy, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.

Twenty-five years in the making and based on the acclaimed 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, Silence is unlike any film I have ever seen. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play two Portuguese priests from the 1600s who venture to Japan — where Christianity is outlawed — in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing after sending back a letter describing the horrors he witnessed — horrors that allegedly made him renounce his faith. This thus kicks off a harrowing journey of incredible danger as the two young priests are thrust into beautiful Japanese seaside villages where pockets of Christians remain hiding in fear and despair due to the brutal Christianity suppression campaign of a man known as the  “Inquisitor”.

Silence is without a doubt a difficult movie to sit through and is definitely not for everyone. The priests are subject to test after test of faith, many of which are impossible to bear from both a physical and emotional standpoint. I guess it could be called slow and torturous “religious persecution porn”, and despite how that sounds, I found the film so engrossing that I could not turn away at the horrors happening on the screen. Scorsese’s control of storytelling and the characters’ inner turmoil is downright masterful, and his use of sound and silence is incredibly powerful. From a visual perspective, the film — entirely shot in Taiwan — is stunning and accords with Japanese beliefs about nature while offering an uncomfortable juxtaposition with the ugly human conduct depicted in the film. The simple sets and foggy landscapes appear authentic and with no sense of CGI whatsoever, and now having seen all the Best Cinematography Oscar nominees this year, I would say that the Silence‘s DP, Rodrigo Prieto, should be the favorite.

The performances are of course great and should have garnered Oscar consideration. I don’t have a problem with Garfield getting his nomination for Hacksaw Ridge instead of this movie, though I think Liam Neeson should have gotten a nod for his difficult and heartbreaking portrayal. I’ve always known that Neeson has a very particular set of skills, but I never thought it would be playing a broken 1600s Jesuit priest who has had his faith shattered.

Silence is not so much a Christian film as it is a film about faith. It’s a movie that people of all faiths, regardless of religion, can appreciate and empathise with. I’d go further and say that even atheists and agnostics can gain valuable insights from this film, especially the extent to which one can have faith in a higher power that never speaks back no matter how much you pray and does nothing to put an end to unjust suffering. I was fascinated by the film’s portrayal of different types of people of faith, from those who succumb to persecution and betray their faith easily, only to ask for forgiveness again and again, to those who long for death — and thus entry into their promised paradise — as sweet relief from their wretched lives.

It’s a shame Silence was almost entirely overlooked by the Academy because it’s easily one of the best films of the year in my book. I found it significantly better and deeper than The Passion of the Christ, which can also be classified as suffering porn, though Silence is more about the mental than the physical, and goes much further by questioning the very nature of faith itself.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013) (2D)

wolverine-poster

Oh cinema, how I have missed thou!

Feels good to be back at the movies after a lengthy hiatus of three weeks. For my triumphant return, I chose The Wolverine, the highly anticipated “sequel” to 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine but chronologically speaking it’s the film that comes immediately after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand (the third film in the original trilogy).

The Wolverine received a lot of hype in Australia because a significant portion of the film was shot there, including at Sydney Olympic Park, Darling Harbour, Parramatta and Cockle Bay. And of course, Hugh Jackman had hyped it up more by admitting disappointment with X-Men Origins: Wolverine but boasting that The Wolverine had gotten it right as the type of Wolverine film he had wanted to make all along.

To be honest, I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not as bad as it was made out to be — flawed but perfectly adequate. On the other hand, while The Wolverine is definitely a better film, I’m not sure it quite succeeded in living up to Jackman’s promise. It’s a more personal Wolverine film with more pain, emotions and depth, and the action is more varied and exciting — but at the same time it didn’t captivate me like the best X-Men films (such as 2011’s X-Men: First Class — review here) and was dragged down by a sluggish middle act.

The story for this film was apparently provided by one of the most popular arcs from the Wolverine comics. Our hero is battling demons from his relationship with his one true love, Jean Grey (a role reprised by Famke Janssen), and is living a meaningless existence until he runs into Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mysterious Japanese sword-wielder who is on a mission to bring him to Japan to meet a dying man from his past. The dying dude happens to be a head of one of the largest companies in the world, and the Wolverine becomes caught up in the complex Japanese world of family politics, ninjas and yakuza henchmen (naturally, there are some obvious Japanese cliches littered throughout the film, but I don’t think any of them come across as culturally offensive). Oh, and of course a few mutants here and there.

There are some spectacular action sequences in this film thanks to the unique Japanese setting. One of my favourites takes place on a speeding Shinkansen (bullet train), and another involves the Wolverine taking on a whole clan of ninja assassins. There are a couple of others I can’t mention because of spoilers.

The film is driven by the performance of Hugh Jackman, who proves for the sixth time that he was born for the role. It’s not just the muscular, veiny appearance — you can actually sense the passion he has poured into the character in every movement on the screen. In the realm of movie superheroes, Jackman will rank right up there with Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr as actors who fit their “costumes” better than anyone else.

The supporting cast is also surprisingly good. Apart from the aforementioned Rila Fukushima, there is newcomer Tao Okamoto (a svelte Japanese model), The Last Samurai actor Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee (yeah Sleeping Dogs!) and Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova. None are exactly household names but there are no weak links as all hold their own in key roles.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Wolverine but was a little disappointed it wasn’t the superhero masterpiece I had hoped for. It’s a film I think hardcore Wolverine and comic fans will love for the attention to detail and truthfulness to the source material, but casual fans might struggle to remember or understand the convoluted backstory and appreciate the ties to rest of the X-Men universe.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: Remember to stick around for a mid-credits scene that gives us a sneak peek into the next instalment of the X-Men franchise, next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is already shaping up to be one of the most epic superhero movies ever by combining all prequels and sequels and everything in between from the X-Men universe.

PPS: The film was directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma). He does a decent job, but I wonder how the film might have turned out had it not been turned down by Guillermo del Toro and Darren Aronofsky.