According to an AFP report Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese plans to adapt the 1966 novel “Silence” by Shusaku Endo for the screen.

The book tells the story of a young Jesuit priest from Portugal who lands in southern Japan, and of Japan’s brutal persecution of Catholics during the 17th century.

From the report:

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.