Minamata – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Andrew Levitas
Starring: Johnny Depp, Hiroyuki Sanada, Minami, Jun Kunimura, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, Bill Nighy, Katherine Jenkins
In cinemas 13th August
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. In the seventies, American photographer W. Eugene Smith exposed their role in polluting the water supply in Minamata that led to thousands of deaths as well as 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 did not initially trust him and Chisso were determined to stop him from revealing the truth. He eventually released his photos to the world but at a great personal cost. He 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 understands the story we are bombarded with lots of exposition about it and there are many scenes that simply feel tedious. There is no doubt that the intentions of the filmmakers were sincere but this is somewhat jumbled.
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 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 don’t take place in the magazine offices. This is such a complicated tale that perhaps a documentary treatment would have suited better. The script is quite complex making it a difficult watch but despite its flaws, it is a solid and engaging drama.