Directed by: Andrew Levitas – Starring: Johnny Depp, Hiroyuki Sanada, Minami, Jun Kunimura, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, Bill Nighy, Katherine Jenkins
In cinemas now!
Minamata is an area in Japan that was devastated by the effect of mercury poisoning, and what became known as Minamata disease. This disease is caused by industrial pollution, and was linked to the activities of the well-known chemical company, Chisso. Nowadays, they are known as JNC, and an important supplier of liquid crystal used for LCDs, but in the seventies, American photographer W. Eugene Smith exposed their role in polluting the water supply in Minamata, which led to thousands of deaths, and victims of disease and deformities.
Smith, played here by Depp, was possibly the most famous photojournalist in the world when he undertook the assignment, and despite covering huge disasters and world events, nothing could have prepared him for what he discovered.
However, despite his good intentions, the local community don’t trust him, and Chisso are determined to stop him revealing the truth. He eventually released his photos to the world, but at great personal cost. He had faced severe reprisals over the work, and these would later indirectly lead to his death at the age of 59.
There have been a lot of movies dealing with corporate cover-ups and their effects on communities in the past couple of years, and they generally tend to be quite dense, and this is no exception. To ensure that the audience fully understand the story, we are bombarded with lots of exposition about it, and there are many scenes that simply feel tedious. There is no doubting that the movie-makers’ intentions were sincere, but this is somewhat jumbled and chaotic.
Depp has been in the media for his personal life so frequently in the past couple of years, that it’s easy to forget that he’s actually a pretty decent actor. He does a good job as Smith, bringing an intensity and passion to the complex character. However, he looks far too young to play him, which is ironic, given that he’s actually older now than Smith was when he was covering the story.
Many of the other actors are wasted. Bill Nighy, as Smith’s editor at Life magazine, is given little to do. And Katherine Jenkins appears to be there simply for the sexy lamp effect. Suffice to say that the best scenes here don’t take place in the magazine offices.
Overall though, this has a reverence for the material, and the story is horrific enough to keep you engaged. Despite being hit and miss throughout, it is the story that ensures Minamata remains watchable. This is such a complex tale that perhaps a documentary treatment would have worked better.
While Minamata is a very heavy watch, it is also a solid enough drama, which has its flaws but overcomes them.
See Trailer Below: