I want to say Minamata is a beautifully crafted film full of sensitivity and unspoken emotion. It follows the real-life story of W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp), a failing photographer past his prime consumed by the rapidly advancing society of New York. It is comforting to see Depp’s return to cinema in the role of a drunkard—especially that of a selfish one but be prepared for that to, once again, be his only personality trait. The movie centres around a stereotypical white saviour complex deifying the poor, starving artist who suddenly finds a renewed purpose in life as well as a renewed faith in humanity or some other superficial moral message. The titular location of Minamata in Japan is under threat due to unmonitored mercury dumping by a large factory which threatens the health and livelihood of locals. Of course, there are protests and petitions, but nothing screams effective activism like a male outsider in a non-western country.
As a critical commentary on industrial pollution, Minamata suffers an identity crisis. Director Andrew Levitas is unable to dramatise the story for fear of turning an environmental threat into entertainment value but with a run time of nearly two hours, we get it! There is an ambitious splicing of past footage of the Minamata protests with the movie which overlays every scene with a y2k film girl Instagram filter. As if we didn’t already know this movie was about a photographer. Artsy? Sure. Blockbuster? Unfortunately. Depressing? God, yes.
“This movie could’ve been an email.”