Reviewed by Stephen Wollaston (aka Santoshan)
Starring Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy, Minamata is essentially two bittersweet true stories that become intertwined. Depp plays Life magazine’s photojournalist William Eugene Smith in his twilight years in 1971, who has become a risk for the magazine as he didn’t complete his previous assignment and drinks heavily. He is reluctantly persuaded by two people from Minamata to take on what was to become his last photo assignment in Japan to document a largely fishing community fighting for justice against a chemical manufacturer polluting local seawater. The shocking consequences of the contamination is causing devastating health problems in newborn children such as permanent major physical deformities, severe brain damage, deafness and blindness. Sadly, this is an all-too-familiar story we sometimes hear, about large corporations not taking responsibility for environmental damage they create, and how profit, power and corruption lead to cover-up and denial of any wrong doing, while local and indigenous people’s lives are destroyed.
Other films such as Dark Waters have followed a similar theme. But whereas Dark Waters focused primarily on a lawyer’s pursuit for justice, Minamata is a story that documents a wounded and reluctant creative hero’s journey, and how a community came together in their suffering and a persistent fight for recognition of their plight. There are touching moments in the film as Smith slowly finds new meaning to his life (based on factual accounts from what I could find out about him online after watching the film), as well as scenes of mindless violence and destruction inflicted upon both Smith and the people of Minamata. I couldn’t help think how we are still seeing the latter played out in environmental demonstrations and legal battles against large corporations today, and how it is essential to keep bringing these issues to the attention of a wider public, and make profiteering businesses accountable for devastating actions.
As hard as some may find to watch in places, I found it a deeply moving film and highly recommend it. It is superbly acted, sensitively filmed, and an important story that should not be forgotten.