I’ll admit, I knew nothing about MINAMATA (the film or the Japanese city) when I signed on to do this review. I just heard “there’s Johnny Depp in a beret” and said “I’m in!” As such, I wasn’t quite ready for the emotional true story that followed.
MINAMATA tells the heartfelt real-life story of renown – but troubled – war photographer, W. Eugene Smith, travelling to the Japanese fishing community of Minamata to document the devastating effects of mercury poisoning in coastal communities. Here he is swept up in a fight against industrial pollution…which is sadly a battle still fought by many today. I, ashamedly, had no knowledge of this historical event and wonder how many others will be enlightened but this film. Some may argue the narrative seems undecided as to whether the film is a character study of the troubled Gene, or a drama fighting to hold corporations accountable… I say; is it wrong for them to do both? At no moment did I feel the film was at odds with itself. The multilayered story only made it more interesting.
Despite an arguably inexperienced director being at the helm (Andrew Levitas; this being his second directorial effort) MINMATA is a strong and humbling film with a mostly cohesive vision. It starts off strong, with edgy cinematography reflective of the gritty film photography the film’s central character is known for. There are some stunningly composed shots, and the pumping soundtrack / quick edits thrust you in to the world of this genuine (if a little pretentious) artist. It’s an engrossing and creative start – although once the storytelling gets underway things become a little more conventional in their execution. It’s slightly disappointing that a film that starts with such creative promise ends much like any stock-standard film would.
The cast is strong, with Johnny Depp managing to just keep Eugene likeable despite his artistic cliches of being unreliable, temperamental and reliant drugs. The inclusion of several cast members with severe disabilities is dealt with with care, and adds weight to the point the film is making. They have not shied away from the devastating effects such diseases can have. Bill Nighy is also a great presence, despite his smaller role.
MINAMATA is a poignant film and – despite being set in 1971 – uses effective end text to highlight how industrial pollution is still a significant issue today. Despite it’s unbalanced execution in terms of creative vision, it’s an impactful story that is well told.
I rate it 7 stars.