Life magazine sends photographer Eugene Smith to Japan to document the atrocious effect of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.
A must-see! Johnny Depp’s performance is the real deal, but this is not why you need to watch this. Let me get it out of the way because many may focus on that, but that shouldn’t be the focus point. Depp’s performance is intriguing as much it is compelling and I will add that Hiroyuki Sanada’s presence is purely explosive! Now…
The opening shot takes your breath away and keeps the hard and cruel promise it makes. Writer/Producer/Director Andrew Levitas fought tooth and nail to get Minamata released after premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. Depp’s court case forced pushing the released date back, but the long wait was definitely worth it.
The first half an hour is about the inevitable; Eugene Smith to accept the job and live up to the name he once had. Once that is out of the picture, the struggle of Minamata’s people immediately becomes the relatable focus point, starting with the poisoned boy taking the camera off Smith’s hands. Every person affected and depicted after him becomes the audience’s struggle to breath properly as cinematographer’s Benoit Delhomme’s lens captures their unspeakable drama with respect and understanding. Every shot becomes, indeed, a thousand words of unbearable burden.
There is so much I could say about the film’s pace and rhythm, and every actor’s / actress’ devotion to the project, but I’ll deliberately generalise and claim that films like Minamata is the reason cinema exists. Cinema is entertainment but it is also, like any other form of art, the means to express the way artists perceive the world. ‘Science fiction’ holds truths about mankind with direct or subliminal messages hidden in the narrative. ‘Horror’, in its own respect, and among others, reveals sides of ourselves that we could never admit about our nature. Minamata exists to disclose both sides of mankind that disgust us, but also make us want to cry with what we can accomplish but we have yet the chance (or will) to do so.
I know these on-screen kids didn’t suffer from a disease caused by mercury, but my breath was cut short and felt like bursting into tears, nonetheless. Allowing myself to believe it though, is the kind of immense influence cinema has. Cinematic magic is the one I always allowed myself as a kid to believe in and it is the one that has made me get through life itself.