Endo Shusaku Essay - Critical Essays

Endo Shusaku (Vol. 7)

Endo Shusaku 1923–

Endo is a distinguished Japanese playwright and novelist. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32.)

[At] 43 Endo has already become Japan's outstanding Roman Catholic writer. By the common consent of critics, not only do he and the Protestant Rinzo Shiina rank among Japan's finest contemporary writers; they are possibly the finest committed Christian writers that Japan has ever produced. True, Japan has produced a large number of powerful writers—Akutagawa and Dazai, to mention only two; but these, though their work was influenced by Christian thought, were not committed Christians. A Japanese novelist who is at once an outstanding artist and a committed Christian is a rare phenomenon. Shiina is one such and Endo is another. (p. 1147)

Chinmoku and Ogon no Kuni [the dramatic vision of Chinmoku] together seem to embody [Endo's] conviction that evil and goodness coexist in the same person…. It seems safe to say that Endo's work will be regarded as a turning point in Japanese literary history, for he consistently and powerfully affirms human goodness, and he does this as a Christian who remains completely a Japanese. (p. 1148)

William I. Elliott, "Shusaku Endo: A Christian Voice in Japanese Literature," in The Christian Century (copyright 1966 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the September 21, 1966 issue of The Christian Century), September 21, 1966, pp. 1147-48.

Into the sweetly tranquil and painfully respectable world of Japanese Catholicism, a recently published best-selling novel has obtruded with all the vulgar inappropriateness of a howitzer at a teaparty. The novel is called The Silence, and the author is Shusaku Endo, a Catholic, a writer of established reputation, and a former instructor in French literature at Sophia, the Jesuit University. (p. 136)

[Graham] Greene's influence upon Endo seems rather pronounced. The Judas figure, Kichijiro, has a prototype in the mestizo in The Power and the Glory, even to the whining manner and bad teeth. And the Whisky Priest of the same novel has, I think, contributed something to the character of this other hunted priest, Rodrigo. Even the symbolism of the cock crowing after Scobie's betrayal of God is skillfully adapted by Endo. Yet he blends his themes into a Japanese mood and setting, giving them his own shading and developing his own levels of meaning. For instance, The Silence hinges on the problem of pity, much as The Heart of the Matter does: but Endo adds a further nuance by contrasting the universal and indiscriminate Buddhist pity with the apparently narrower and more exacting Christian variety.

Besides becoming extremely popular, this complex novel has managed to pull off the far more difficult feat of engaging the serious and quite favorable attention of those most indefatigable but capricious of literary practitioners, the upper echelon of Japanese intellectuals. These gentlemen have in general rested secure in the assumption that Japan has long since taken all that is useful for her from Christianity and that the claims of Roman Catholicism are scarcely worth discussing any further. However, when confronted with Endo's stark presentation of the implications and consequences of those claims and with the dramatic power which the issue of faith, however absurd it may be, can generate, they have felt constrained to resurrect the question. That many of them succeeded to their own satisfaction in interpreting Endo to confirm their previous opinion is not especially important. What is significant is their awareness that indeed such a Tartar as Endo has emerged from innocuous Japanese Catholicism and that, in coming to grips with his theme, they have found themselves struggling in depths to which they are not accustomed in the sex-and-sensibility fiction of a Tanizaki or a Mishima.

For the Catholicism of The Silence is a dark and threatening thing. The conventional image current in Japan is shattered in it. Here is no sweet brand of easy consolation attractive to the weak, the confused, the sick, dispensed by soothing priests oblivious to everything nasty and contemporary. Here rather is the source of turmoil and disorder, which brings terrible suffering in its wake, whose agents, despite themselves, are harbingers of disaster both for themselves and those who hear them.

Whatever criticism one wishes to make of Endo's image, he depicts at least a Catholicism which cannot safely be ignored. (p. 138)

Michael Gallagher, "Exploring a Dark and Cruel Period: A Japanese-Catholic Novel," in Commonweal (copyright © 1966 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), November 4, 1966, pp. 136-38.

For Western readers the Japanese novel may well mean Mishima and little else, and ostensibly nothing could be farther from that author's world of blood and traditions than the background to Wonderful Fool. Yet for both writers the moral evils are the same, even if Mr Endo's remedy is not applied in terms of closely-observed ritual or loyalty to the Emperor. What shocks him, as it appears to have shocked Mishima, is the spiritual emptiness of what he calls "mudswamp Japan", an emptiness heightened by the absence of any appropriate sense of sin.

This preoccupation with a specifically Christian cure for the national disease forms the basis of [Wonderful Fool]….

However, with the narrative hovering nervously between broad comedy, social realism, the fabulous and the didactic, Mr Endo cannot always provide the necessary technical assurance. Altogether it seems too slight a book for the gravity of its theme. It is not, perhaps, too self-righteous to ask whether Japan needs the sense of sin which the author would have it assume, whether Gaston's messianic role isn't wholly impertinent [Gaston is the hero], and whether he doesn't richly deserve all the apparently churlish treatment he receives at the hands of his Japanese associates.

"Reedy Redemption," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1974; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 25, 1974, p. 69.

When I had finished Shusaku Endo's Wonderful Fool I wished I could visit Japan, preferably in Endo's company, and meet the beggars and bank clerks, the crooks and whores, who figure in his picaresque tour of the suburbs and slums of Tokyo today. The 'fool' of the title is an innocent abroad, a guileless, gangling, young Frenchman, clumsy and accident-prone, but, fortunately, ever-forgiving…. The translator regards Gaston Bonaparte as a Christ-figure, and that may well have been the author's intention, Endo being a Catholic, but…. Gaston seemed to me to behave more like a Candide than a Christ. Certainly, Christian Endo has a sense of humour that Shintoite Mishima almost entirely lacked…. By various misadventures Endo succeeds brilliantly in making us see his Japan through the eyes of the well-intentioned but far from well-informed European flâneur with whom (unless we regard him as Christ) we can easily identify. (pp. 137-38)

John Mellors, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), April/May, 1974.

In Silence, Endo smuggled a young Portuguese Jesuit into a seventeenth-century Japan tightly sealed to the Church. The author attempted to redefine love of humanity and faith in God against the tortuous background of the priest's apostasy. In Wonderful Fool, Endo imports into modern Japan a huge, clumsy, naïve French youth, Gaston Bonaparte, who bungles his way from the heart of Tokyo to northern Yamagata.

Gaston, having failed three times to be admitted to a seminary, comes to Japan with a mission. It is to realize an absolute, unqualified faith in the country and its people. He is determined to trust all whom he encounters. He is scorned, deceived, threatened, beaten and finally drowned in a swamp. In the end, however, his total faith transforms all the Japanese, not excluding even a hardened criminal. Thus, the simple Frenchman has successfully sowed a seed of good will in the corrupting mud swamp, Endo's favorite metaphor for non-Christian Japan.

Endo has created here a figure exactly opposite to that of Kichijiro in Silence, the latter a person of stubborn unbelief. Clearly, Gaston is a thinly disguised Christ-figure. For Endo, who actually contrived a wooden Judas-figure in Silence, it would be a formidable task to breathe a sense of life into a character symbolizing pure trust, and he has opted for a comic figure, having removed most of Gaston's brain with the result that the hero's behavior baffles the reader from start to finish. Endo's much-praised humor, which could have helped the situation, proves to be feeble and ineffectual.

The work has been interpreted as a modern fable. No matter how one labels it, it is difficult to term it even a moderately good work. It would be much more in tune with the tone of the work if the original title, Obaka-san, were translated faithfully as "A Fool." (pp. 391-92)

Kinya Tsuruta, in Books Abroad (copyright 1975 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring, 1975.

Shusaku Endo has been called the Japanese Graham Greene, and Graham Greene, for his part, believes Silence to be 'one of the finest novels of our time'. Written by a Roman Catholic, presenting (with an appearance of the guilelessness that's often perceived later to be about as harmless as a serpent) the sad and heroic story of Japan's 17th-century persecution of Catholics, and dealing in the issues of apostasy, martyrdom and the baffling silences of God, Silence certainly smacks continually of Greene's racked Catholic world. It's based on historical actualities…. Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe survive early mishaps only to be captured and tortured, mainly by the knowledge of the tortures (beheadings, drownings and such) which their refusal to trample on holy images causes to be inflicted on faithful Japanese. The tale proves to be engrossing, even if you can see from a long way off that it will lead inevitably to the apostasy of Rodrigues.

But in many respects it's not engrossing enough: neither Rodrigues's spiritual conflict over God's apparent refusal to speak to him or act to save His believers from pain, nor the novel's central theological puzzle (should Rodrigues trample on Christ's effigy out of a Christ-like love that would save the sufferers he can actually hear groaning in the Pit?), manage to clamber beyond the merely diagrammatic. Even the grotesquely tragi-comic Kichijiro, a Judas who keeps betraying and then repenting (noticeably akin to the cowardly-brave buffoon in The Seven Samurai), remains subdued. The flatness of the tone in English (I've no way of telling how the prose sounds in Japanese) corresponds to the novel's real lack of moral resonance. And consequently the would-be biggest issue of all, raised by the persecution-devising Magistrate Inoue—whether Japan isn't simply too alien a culture for Western Christianity to survive in—isn't netted at all cleanly. The simple facts (and the narrative comes hung about with a clutter of documentation, letters, diaries, coroners' statements) fail to speak entirely for themselves. Graham Greene animates such dilemmas much more memorably. (p. 620)

Valentine Cunningham, in New Statesman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), May 7, 1976.