minamata

★★★★

director: Andrew Levitas (lullaby)

starring: johnny depp, minami, Hiroyuki Sanada and bill nighy

REVIEWER: lyall carter

War photographer W. Eugene Smith travels back to Japan where he documents the devastating effect of mercury poisoning in coastal communities.

Once a prolific presence on the silver screen, the frequency of Johnny Depp's cinematic appearances, for a variety of reasons, have been a lot less these days. Which is a crying shame because his performance in Minamata is a timely reminder of the raw and wondrous acting talent that Depp possesses. Minamata is a necessary film that is not only a heartbreaking tale anchored by one of Johnny Depp’s best performances to date, but is a timely critique of corrupt officials and the pollution of our planet. 

 

New York, 1971. Following his celebrated days as one of the most revered photojournalists of World War II, W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) has become a recluse, disconnected from society and his career. But a secret commission from Life magazine editor Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy) sends him to the Japanese coastal city of Minamata, which has been ravaged by mercury poisoning; the result of decades of gross industrial negligence by the country’s Chisso Corporation.

 

Although Minamata may have benefited from a slight shaving off of its running time, it's a slow burner drama of the best of old Hollywood. It gives ample time to character development which lies at the very heart of this story, giving it an emotional hook that really snags its audience. 

 

We are given time as an audience to observe the lives of the families of Minamata who have lost or had loved ones deeply affected by the Chisso poisoning, we are given time with the protest movement against Chisso and at the hospital wing especially constructed for the most serious poisoning cases. 

 

This allows the film to breathe, to let us into the story so that it breaks our heart at the evil injustice that this town endured because of the actions of a big corporation. This film couldn’t be more timely as stories emerge around the world of incompetence by some officials in tackling the Covid pandemic and our ongoing environmental crisis. It’s a reminder that these battles are still ongoing, albeit in a different form, many years later and that not only must we hold those in power to account but that we ourselves can bring societal change. 

 

As the audience we also get to experience the beauty of the cinematographic construction of the film as it wonderfully frames the wild beauty of the village in direct contrast with the dull, drab Chisso factory. 

 

Aside from the story, this film belongs to Johnny Depp. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a performance of this magnitude from him. When we were watching the film, my wife and I couldn’t believe that it was Depp because of how completely he disappeared into the role. It is a magnificent performance. 

Minamata is a necessary film that is not only a heartbreaking tale anchored by one of Johnny Depp’s best performances to date, but is a timely critique of corrupt officials and the pollution of our planet.

★★★★

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