A riveting testament to those who campaign for environmental protection and victims of industrial and corporate negligence, Minamata tells the story of W Eugene Smith who is considered responsible for bringing the true-life plight of the titular Japanese village to world attention.
Smith (Johnny Depp) plays the celebrated photojournalist, a style for which his employer Life magazine was known for. The story begins in 1971 in New York, by which time Smith is struggling to maintain a grasp on life, let alone his career. He’s become a disgruntled and mumbling recluse, who harasses Life editor, Robert Hayes (played by Bill Nighy) for his next big assignment. It never emerges, which spells even greater sufferance for Smith, whose mental health is already plagued from a career of documenting war, hunger, poverty and violence. There may be nothing else left to live for.
That is until Eileen (played by Minami) and Kiyoshi (Ryo Kase) arrive on his doorstep, claiming to be filming a commercial with Smith as their star. In fact, they want to recruit Smith and his camera to photograph the plight of the Minamata community in Japan and broadcast it to the world. In a drunken haze, Smith fobs them off but after looking through a dossier of the environmental nightmare, he coerces Hayes to send him to Japan on official assignment.
Smith arrives in the coastal city of Minamata, which has been ravaged by mercury poisoning; the result of decades of gross industrial negligence by the country’s Chisso Corporation. Living side by side with the villagers, Smith’s narcissism begins to crack, and refocuses his energies to help tell their stories through his lens. He immerses himself by documenting their efforts to live with Minamata Disease and their passionate campaign to achieve recognition from Chisso and the Japanese Government. Armed only with his trusted camera, Smith’s images from the toxic village give the disaster a heartbreaking human dimension, and his initial assignment turns into a life-changing experience. It is agreed that this assignment, created from 1971 to 1974 in the city of Minamata, was Smith’s most important, impactful and influential work. It was also his last.
Archival footage and images are weaved throughout the film, some of which will jolt you. The film’s cinematography is ethereal, while the dialogue between Depp and Nighy is over exposed.
Minamata opens nationally on 3 June 2021. Check your local guides for screening times.
Length: 115 mins
Directed by Andrew Levitas
Written by David Kessler, Andrew Levitas, Jason Forman, Stephen Deuters
Stars Johnny Depp, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jun Kunimura, Minami, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, Akiko Iwase, Bill Nighy