Makoto Fujimura '83 is renowned for his visual art, which combines traditional Japanese painting techniques with abstraction. Last year, he published Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, which he describes as "comparative literature, memoir and theological reflection." His book was inspired by Silence, the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo that Martin Scorsese brought to life last year. Fujimura was an adviser for the Oscar nominated film, which hauntingly depicts the persecution of Catholics in 17th-century Japan. Fujimura, a Bucknell trustee, is the director of Fuller Seminary's Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts and is founder of the International Arts Movement.
By Sherri Kimmel
Q: You and Martin Scorsese are both keenly visual artists who were captivated for decades by Endo’s book. What is it about Silence that grabs you and won’t let you go?
A: Marty knew right away that it was a life-changing work for him, but it took him a while to find an angle for a film treatment. I actually read Endo’s work at Bucknell, but I really didn’t understand it. Years later, I had an encounter with fumi-e stepping blocks in a side room of the Tokyo National Museum. It was a re-encounter with Endo’s book, and from that moment on, it haunted me. Until my friend introduced me to Martin Scorsese [in 2013], I never really expected to journey this deeply with Endo.
Q: What was the nature of your collaboration?
A: I was asked to read the early script, and he made several corrections after that. I was on the set twice and worked with the set designers. Then Marty invited a few of us to see the cut before the final cut and make comments.
Q: Did Scorsese’s vision for the story match the way you visualized Silence?
A: It was way beyond what I had envisioned. He is an amazing visual thinker. It is a remarkable work of art, from a visual artist’s perspective.
Q: Through your book and the movie, Silence has been shared with an audience that might never have encountered it. What do you hope the impact of that experience will be?
A: In today’s very divided, polarized reality, in the U.S, and the world, where religious persecution is on the rise, where we have established this way of excluding “the other,” this story serves as almost an antidote. We can extend ourselves in hospitality to the stranger, to outsiders, to marginal people, refugees, immigrants. I pursued Endo’s writings for the past three years, and I know that he wanted to write a universal story about trauma in order that people cannot only survive trauma but find deeper hope through it. So ultimately, it is a work of compassion, and I hope we can become more compassionate as a result of encountering Endo’s work.
Q: Fumi-e are images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus that Christians in Japan were asked to step upon to renounce their faith. What are some of the fumi-e we are now forced to step upon?
A: That’s easy: the last election. Whoever we voted for, we stepped on our own fumi-e ideologies — principles that we value the most. We did it for many good reasons, but many of us betrayed the very principles of liberalism and conservatism by voting for a candidate we didn’t really believe in.
Q: You’ll be delivering the Samek Distinguished Art Lecture on campus April 27. What message do you plan to bring here?
A: It’s really related to Silence and Beauty. How do you create in this very fragmented, anxiety-filled world? I think the integrated knowledge that a liberal arts education brings is exactly what we need.
Explore selections from Silence and Beauty.