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MSU historian helps Scorsese tell epic tale of Jesuits in Japan

Shelby Kroske, MSU Libraries


Michigan State University historian Liam Brockeyhas spent years studying the history of Catholicism. Now, that scholarship is generating something unexpected: Oscar buzz.

Brockey served as a consultant on legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s latest work “Silence,”the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 1640's to find their lost mentor.

During the 17th century, Japan was cracking down on Christian missionaries who had been spreading their faith in the region for a century. Brockey’s book The Visitorfocuses on Jesuits during this period, when Catholic priests were killed and members of their church forced to convert.

When he found out that Scorsese was making a film based on this little-known history, he called the filmmaker’s production studio to offer his services as a historian. To his surprise, they called him back. Over three years, Brockey helped the production staff decide what props should appear in a 17th-century Jesuit mass, or what aspects of the faith would have been emphasized by Portuguese priests in Japan.

In his work as a historian, Brockey has to imagine how the world looked to priests on the other side of the globe, 300 years ago. The film Silence, Brockey said, “takes my imagination and projects it onto the screen.”

To hear more from Professor Liam Brockey, including why he believes missionaries to Japan were so different from their colonial counterparts in North America, listen to the whole interview above.


Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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