Review by Dan Skip Allen
Minamata is a film about people and places I have never heard of before. I love watching films where I can learn about something new. Director Andrew Levitas adapted the book of the same name by Aileen Mioko Smith and Eugene Smith. It is an eye-opening film about a terrible disease
Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) is a veteran photographer. He works for LIFE magazine until all the work has dried up. One day, a Japanese woman Aileen (Minami) comes to his home with photos of her village. They depict villagers that are sick of mercury poisoning called Minamata disease, named after the village it was discovered in Japan. This gets Smith's blood flowing again and he takes up this cause as his own and gets his editor Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy) to finance his trip to Japan.
There have been films about poisoning a water source or the ground before — Erin Brockovich and Dark Waters are a couple of examples. They have to get at the heart of why what these companies are doing is wrong and how what they are doing is affecting the people in the story or film. This film is a little unconventional with its delivery of the story, but it gets its point across just as well as the two films I've mentioned.
Johnny Depp usually plays more comedic or campy types of characters in his long and storied career. A lot of the time, he is covered in makeup and wearing some outlandish clothing. Even though he's doing that in this film, he's got much better material to work with this time out. The script is very good and dives deeply into the relationship between Smith and Aileen. This is one of the best performances of Depp's career. He has a lot to chew on in this film. It shows what a good actor he is when he's given good material to work with
This film has an interesting look to it as well. The camera work in the film and cinematography capture the 1970s perfectly. The muted shots of the sky or foggy lakes and mountains of Japan mirror the confusion of the people involved in the film. Shadowy cloudy nights and interior shots in buildings, small homes, and shacks are part of the texture of what this film is trying to look like. Also, Smith captures these people through his lens and those are some very powerful scenes. The various styles work well together.
True stories like this one are very fascinating because they deal with touchy subject matter. Getting all the details right is very important. The production value has to show a world where these events happened and in turn, look as realistic as possible. The acting by not only Depp but also others plays a big part in the film's realism. Hiroyuki Sanada (Avengers: Endgame) as a negotiator for the townspeople, Jun Kunimira (Kate), Tadanobu Asano (Mortal Kombat) as a grieving father, and Riyo Kase as a calming voice amongst the sickly villagers are all standouts amongst the cast of hundreds.
Minamata is a pleasant surprise for me because I didn't know what I was getting into with this film. I only knew Johnny Depp was in it and he's usually worth taking a chance on. The acting not only by him but many of the others in the film is superb. The camera work and cinematography lend themselves perfectly to the '70s aesthetic the director is going for. The story is fascinating and very engrossing. This is another solid film about a big company abusing its rights and in turn harming a community.
Minamata is now in theaters.