Written By Jacob Chimilar (Letterboxd: sweetlows)
I thought this was a solid film with excellent performances, with Andrew Garfield providing a second stunning performance this year. I wish they didn't need the accents because it did sound a bit marble mouthed at the beginning, like he was struggling to really get any distinct accent down. But his emotional journey was played with great care and range, taking him from somewhat of a disciple of Jesus spreading the truth to questioning if it really is worth all the trouble and places in between. The resistance he gets from the anti-Christian Japanese enforcers makes for an excellent foil and a commanding presence that puts what he believes in a constant state of check.
The direction, cinematography, sets and costumes are all superb. Watching this just for the craft is worth the price of admission. It's slow methodical and really sinks into the mud with these characters. It wallows in the filth and the desperation and does not let go in a visually interesting and intense way. It goes all in on silence as well, with very little in the way of score, allowing the emotion to drive the scene on it's own. The torture is tough to watch and puts you in the position of the characters faced with these difficult choices. At the same time it asks if what you are trying to do really is the right thing in the first place? Is it worth risking your life and the lives of others to bring what you think is the honest truth to a place that refuses to adapt in large what you are offering? Are you truly in the right? Or are you putting yourself though futile misery by, as the film phrases it, "planting a tree in a swamp"?
I felt like the message the film was getting across was interesting, deep. What happens when this thing that they feel is a defining trait is being forced to give up? Is it a betrayal of themselves? and what do you do when you ask God for help and all you get is silence? This thought is spoiled from repetition If I had to guess the decision behind it was more to do with the roller coaster of emotions people feel over their lifetime about their beliefs, and while I like the idea it comes back to the same central question once or twice too many and could have worked just as well without some of the scenes.
I'm not sure I'd want to watch this again. It isn't really one that has the entertainment value that makes for repeat viewing. It's very heavy and tough to watch at times. It's really a torture test for the characters and by extension the audience. Had this been 20-30 minutes shorter it would be a true masterpiece. I thought it was interesting, brought up questions worth asking and had a story I knew nothing about. This is not another story about Christians defending their faith and how they are right in the face of all odds, it allows for both sides to speak and does not declare a winner. You can feel the passion and craft pouring out of this film and it's message feels like it could be applied to many stories of oppression and that makes it great. However It, like it's characters, must learn when it is best to kill your darlings for the greater good.