Minamata is a 2020 drama film behind which it stands Andrew Levitas who based his screenplay on the book of the same name by Eileen Mioko and the famous photojournalist Eugene Smith, who, among other things, documented for Life magazine the effects of mercury poisoning on the inhabitants of the Japanese coastal settlement of Minamata in 1971. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February last year, and among other things, it attracted attention because it plays the main role. Johnny Depp who filmed part of his scenes in Belgrade.
Renowned photojournalist Eugene Smith (Depp) retired after World War II and the activities on the battlefields and sold off his equipment. However, from a passionate Japanese woman, Eileen learns about the poisoning of the inhabitants of the fishing village of Minamata and accepts the opportunity to discover the devastating consequences of corporate policy and the complicity of the police and the authorities. After convincing the editor of the magazine to send him to the south of Japan, Eugene will first have to gain the trust of the local community in order to convey their story, and then to defeat the spirits of his own past…
This film carries a strong emotional note because it represents the terrible tragedy of a little man who is helpless towards corporate powerful people who avoid responsibility in all possible ways. The poisoning of people in this place got its medical expression Minamata syndrome which are characterized by muscle weakness and problems with the senses and speech, as well as severe deformities of the fetus. The troubles of these unfortunate people and their struggle for justice are one of the most impressive stories in the history of documentary photography and a real example of how the combined power of small people has gradually managed to bring about great changes.
I have to admit that I was not familiar with these events and that while watching I thought that it takes great courage to realize such a painful topic that includes deformed children. This is probably the reason why this story was not picked up by a larger production company, but the film was realized with the help of various donors. Precisely because it was not advertised as mainstream, it retained a certain artistic integrity.
At the beginning of the film, we see how war experiences affected the grumpy Eugene when he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is addicted to alcohol and drugs. He became special, he withdrew, and Johnny Depp gives him a lot more humanity than I expected, although it is somewhat reminiscent of his performance of Hunter Thompson. Arriving in Japan, Eugene becomes a kind of lone gunman who has cameras instead of a gun and gets a chance to redeem himself. Although traditionally hospitable Japanese treat him with politeness and respect, it is clear that many are suspicious because only his presence can make things worse.
Basically, the film is a struggle between David and Goliath, there are Eugene’s problems with vices and ghosts of the past, but we also follow the struggle to keep photography as a medium in conflict with television relevant, especially in the traditional 35mm film in black and white. The photos taken in Minamata represent the triumph of this medium, but also an explanation of how much trust was needed in order for them to be realized. These works define not only Eugene’s career, which without them would be remembered as a war photographer, but also as an indelible portrait of how industrial pollution affects people. Indirectly, these photos also started the fight for environmental protection.
Observing objectively, Minamata is far from a film masterpiece because it has a predictable story and has a lot of clichés about winning good and overcoming alcoholism in favor of a higher goal. At the beginning of the film, I didn’t like the style of shooting with a hand-held camera, which seems quite disoriented, but fortunately it was corrected and a more normal, natural rhythm of shooting was established when the shop moved to Japan. However, these flaws are really insignificant in relation to the heart, passion and feelings of urgency and relevance that this film possesses, and it also supports the fact that it has that winning combination of classic and independent film.
Minamata it is not a film masterpiece, but it is a very emotional and at times disturbing story about an unhappy community that opposed the corporation and how a truth-dedicated photojournalist can help it – a reminder that there are photographs that are really worth a thousand words.
my final grade: 8/10
Source: The Filmske Recenzije by filmskerecenzije.com.
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