DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema
Director - Andrew Levitas - 2020

"Dirty gem"
Corporate greed poisons a small community of Japan, in this real-life drama about environmental pollution and international solidarity, starring Johnny Depp - live from the Berlinale

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM BERLIN

Eugene Smith (played by a heavily bearded, grey-haired and hardly recognisable Johnny Depp) is a photographer for the now defunct Life Magazine. His work is widely respected, but his life couldn’t be more dysfunctional. He is estranged from his wife and children. He recognises being an awful parent, and he drowns his sorrows in whisky and incessant cigarettes. He’s collapsing, both physically and psychologically. He has seemingly lost his will to live and to love. Beneath all the dirt, however, is a kind and dignified human being.

One day in the year of 1971, his boss Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy) commissions him to do a job in the Japanese. He must capture the horrors of the Minamata Disease in the eponymous Japanese city. At first, he refuses, as images of WW2 still haunt him (In 1945, Smith was seriously injured by mortar fire while photographing the Battle of Okinawa). Eventually, he’s persuaded to embrace the ambitious task. He flies to Japan assisted by the interpreter Aileen (French-Japanese actress Minami Hinase), where he engages with the community and witness the horrific Disease firsthand. The neurological disorder in caused by mercury poisoning from the neighbouring Chisso Factories. The corporation refuses to pay the local for the deaths and the irreversible damage caused to their lives. The company dismissed the human suffering as mere collateral damage.

Minamata Disease caused spams, paralysis and convulsions. Victims were left severely disabled, scrawny, blind, unable to walk, speak and even feed themselves. Their fingers and limbs contorted, not dissimilar to the victims of Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1999). I imagine that the images snapped by Smith (such as the iconic Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath) influenced the aesthetics of Japanese horror.

Life Magazine wished to expose the horrors of the obscure disease to the world. Smith gradually won the affection of the locals, who allowed the unpleasant American photographer to capture their intimacy. They were aware that international visibility would assist them in their fight for compensation. The thoughtless Chisso chief cynically attempts to dissuade Smith from carrying out his task by telling him that the chemicals manufactured are utilised in the photographs that he makes, amongst many other uses. Smith carries on undaunted, forcing the unscrupulous businessman to resort to more extreme measures in order to silence the American photographer.

Minamata is a powerful reminder of the devastating consequences of environmental negligence. Parallels are drawn to other industrial and pharmaceutical disasters, including Chernobyl, the Thalidomide tragedy, mercury poisoning in Indonesian mining, and the more recent Fukushima and Brumadinho disasters (in Japan and Brazil, respectively). Such tragedies are not confined to the past. This is a film that will resonate with environmentalists, or anyone concerned with the consequences of brutal and reckless corporatism.

American filmmaker and photographer Andrew Levitas directed this American-Japanese co-production, which is guaranteed to see UK distribution. That’s partially thanks to the urgent environmental message, partially thanks to the top-drawer cast (Depp, Nighy and Hinase). But the intense focus on the protagonist also cripples the film. While the role of Eugene Smith in exposing the Minamata Disease to the world is undeniable, the director’s constant interest in the photographer’s psychology prevents him from investigating the impact of the Disease on the victims and their families. At times, it seems that the people in the community are merely secondary characters supporting our wonderful white saviour.

Minamata just premiered at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, which started tonight.



"Dirty gem"

By Victor Fraga - 20-02-2020

By Victor Fraga - 20-02-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based writer with more than 15 years of involvement...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
A small family of four lives in a [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Holidaying in Cambodia with Isaac (Ross McCall), Ben [Read More...]

Read More

Locarno 2021 preview: a return to the magic of in-person discovery

 

Redmond Bacon - 03-08-2021

After a year break, the return of an in-person Locarno has this critic feeling both excited and a tad trepidatious. Read our preview now! [Read More...]

Our dirty questions to Edgar Wright

 

Ian Schultz - 31-07-2021

The British director of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and BABY DRIVER talks about his first ever documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS, about the extensive legacy of the American music duo Sparks - in exclusive interview [Read More...]

The Suicide Squad

James Gunn
2021

Eoghan Lyng - 30-07-2021

This poor rehash of the eponymous 2016 movie is one of the most misguided superhero films of the past 10 years, dogged by cliches and resentment - in cinemas Friday, July 30th [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *