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Scorsese plans film on early Japanese Christians

Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese plans to adapt for the screen a novel on Japan's brutal persecution of Christians during the 17th century, according to a museum.

world Updated: Feb 13, 2009 14:42 IST

Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese plans to adapt for the screen a novel on Japan's brutal persecution of Christians during the 17th century, according to a museum.

The 1966 novel "Chinmoku" ("Silence") by Shusaku Endo tells the story of a young idealistic Jesuit priest from Portugal who lands on the shores of Nagasaki in southern Japan -- then the only region open to foreigners.

The novel depicts the severe persecution Japan then inflicted on converts to Christianity, many of whom were impoverished villagers and went into hiding.

Academy Award-winning art director Dante Ferretti, who is close to Scorsese, and producer E Bennett Walsh this week visited the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture to research the film.

"They are going to make a movie and so they visited to research Japanese Christian history," museum spokesman Koichiro Nishijima said.

He said that the pair carefully studied a "fumie," a metal plaque depicting Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary that authorities would make people step on in order to weed out Christians.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said actors who may star in the movie include Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio Del Toro -- who recently depicted Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's "Che".

Scorsese plans to start shooting the film in New Zealand later this year and expects it to reach cinemas in 2010, the Asahi reported.

It would be the first major work directed by a foreigner about the subject, a less well-known part of Japan's history.

As many as 30,000 Japanese are believed to have been persecuted for their Christian faith, which was introduced by Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier in 1549 but banned for centuries.

The Roman Catholic Church last year beatified 188 Japanese martyrs, mostly laypeople who were tortured to death.

Christians came out of hiding when Japan ended its policy of self-imposed seclusion in the 1860s.

Christians now make up a small part of the population in the largely Buddhist and Shinto nation and include prominent figures such as Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Scorsese is known for Hollywood blockbusters including "The Departed" and "Gangs of New York," as well as iconic films "Taxi Driver," "Goodfellas" and "Raging Bull."