Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Depp will star in a film portraying celebrated American photographer W. Eugene Smith in his quest to bring the world's attention to Minamata disease.

The mercury-poisoning disease, first reported in the 1950s, ranks among Japan's worst cases of industrial pollution.

Members of the U.S. production team visited Minamata, a coastal city in Kumamoto Prefecture, in September to meet with Minamata disease patients and their family members to discuss the project.

Filming will start on a full scale next year, both in Japan and overseas.

Smith (1918-1978), a war photographer during World War II who covered the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, worked for Life magazine.

From 1971, he and his wife Aileen Mioko Smith, 68, spent three years in Minamata, producing a series of dramatic images in a photo collection titled “Minamata.”

A Chisso Corp. chemical plant discharged waste water contaminated with mercury into the Minamata Bay. Toxins accumulated in fish and shellfish had devastating health consequences for local residents.

Symptoms include numbness, impaired vision and even death. Children exposed to mercury poisoning as fetuses were often born with severe disabilities.

One of the most iconic pictures in Smith's “Minamata” is of Tomoko Uemura, being bathed in her mother’s arms. Uemura, who was exposed to mercury poisoning when she was a fetus, died at age 21 in 1977.

During the September visit, Aileen and the production team met Uemura’s father Yoshio, 84.

Shinobu Sakamoto, 62, who also was born with the disease, asked the team to “retell the true story.”

Depp is much loved for his zany performances as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

“I hope Johnny Depp, with his acting skills, will show to the world Eugene's character full of humor and his enthusiasm for journalism,” Aileen said. “I hope the film will shed light on the current situation in Minamata, as well as people fighting industrial pollution around the world.”