Critical Context

Given the fact that Shsaku End is a Roman Catholic who, after World War II, studied in France, becoming aware of the work of novelists such as Francois Mauriac and Graham Greene, it would be tempting to make a strong case for European influences on his fiction. End’s work, however, despite the subject matter of many of his novels, deals more with the ways in which Japanese culture responds to Roman Catholicism than with the doctrines of the faith itself. The protagonist of Obaka san (1959; Wonderful Fool, 1974), for example, is a holy innocent named Gaston Bonaparte, but the focus of the novel is on the inability of people in contemporary Japan to recognize and value the virtue beneath Bonaparte’s comic exterior. The decision of Father Cristovao Ferreira, the Jesuit missionary in End’s Chimmoku (1966; Silence, 1969), to apostatize at the instigation of Japanese interrogators comes as a result of Ferreira’s hearing Christ’s voice instructing him to deny his faith as a way of relieving the suffering of his Japanese charges. There are European novels—those of Graham Greene come to mind—which deal with similar priests, but End’s character acts from so strong a sense of group identity as to be uniquely Japanese.

The Samurai does not deal with a character who is as engaging as Gaston Bonaparte or as holy as Father Ferreira; neither does it have the concise construction characteristic of both earlier novels. The Samurai is bigger and bolder than End’s previous fiction, and in it he struggles to get closer to the appeal that noninstitutional Christianity has for those isolated within their societies. End suggests the complexity of the appeal by giving the novel two focal characters and by treating them with equal seriousness. He might have chosen to cast Hasekura and Velasco as antagonists, and in their conflict he might then have suggested the ethical or spiritual superiority of Japanese or Western systems of belief. End chose, instead, to demonstrate the insensitivity of both systems and to use Velasco and Hasekura to point the way to a moral alternative to both. That The Samurai fails to dramatize and explore that alternative does not mean that it does not exist.