In 1950s Japan, a horrible disease was discovered in the coastal town of Minamata. Coined as Minamata Disease, it is a neurological disease that causes numbness in hands and feet, muscle weakness, loss of vision and damage to hearing and speech. Research discovered that the disease was caused by mercury poisoning from eating seafood from waters near the Chisso Chemical Factory, who were dumping their waste water straight into the ocean.
The film Minamata follows Eugene Smith, played by a heavily ‘make-upped’ Johnny Depp, who is an American photographer made famous by his publishings in Life Magazine. Eugene is persuaded to travel to Japan in the 1970s by Aileen, a Japanese translator and activist. Together, they work to document the effects of the disease, the work that the activists are doing, and ultimately break the story worldwide with the help of Life Magazine.
While the story of Minimata is very interesting and moving, a classic ‘David vs Golith’ battle, I felt the film fell a little flat and was too drawn out. The film could have benefited from a bit more heavy-handed editing. I get that it’s a film about a photographer, but how many times do we need to see him lining up a photo, focusing and snapping. We see a lot of this and I found it was a too little repetitive and was losing interest. Aside from a few scenes that showed the creation of some Smith‘s most well known shots from this mission, the film could have benefited from a snappier, more consistent paced energy.
Johnny Depp put on a great performance, but I must admit Minami as translator and love interest Aileen was the stand out of the cast for me. She did a great job conveying such emotion, even when translating between languages, she really stole the spotlight.
Is it a bad film? No. Minamata is a film with a solid story behind it, but it’s pacing is slow and story heavy. There’s a lot of detail here. That being said, Minamata still moved me to tears at one point and brought this huge environmental disaster to my knowledge, and I’m all for that. Go out, see it and learn about this atrocity and the people who stopped it from being swept under the rug.