Review of “Minamata”: a crisis slowly revealed

Although he is the central character, Johnny Depp is the least interesting part of “Minamata”, the Andrew Levitas film based on the true story of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith who, in the 1970s, helped to expose the devastating impact of mercury poisoning on the coasts. communities in Japan.

In the film, Gene (Depp), as he is called Eugene, who had risen to prominence as a war photographer during World War II, has become a recluse, estranged from his children and plagued by alcoholism. and drug addiction. Enter Aileen Mioko (Minami), a translator who recruits him to document the plight of a community in Japan plagued by Minamata disease, a neurological disease with devastating and often fatal symptoms caused by eating fish contaminated with toxic waste. . Eugene convinces his boss at Life magazine, Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy), to send him on a mission.

The film is a slow reveal, largely focusing on Gene before turning its lens to the crisis he’s there to capture. “Minamata” is often undermined by its protagonist, whose crude ways clash with Japanese culture and distract from its central message. Gene is guided by Aileen, who corrects his mannerisms and teaches him empathy, such as when he insists on photographing a victim’s face. He, and therefore the film, keep their subjects at a safe distance. In one scene, Gene sits across from a Japanese child with Minamata disease and says, “I know you don’t understand a word I’m saying, but that won’t stop me from speaking.” emphasizing the disconnect.

It feels throughout that the real action is happening elsewhere: on the ground, carried by people living with the impact of the disease. There are powerful scenes of heated strategy meetings and protesters at the gates of a chemical company, crying out for justice. “Minamata” would have been enhanced by allowing viewers to see and hear these people directly.

Rated R for language throughout. Duration: 1h55. In theaters.

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