Minamata Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

“Minamata” / Minamata

Drama genre
Directed by Andrew Levitas
Cast: Johnny Depp (Eugene Smith), Hiroyuki Sanada (Mitsuo Yamazaki), Minami Hinase (Eileen), Bill Nighy (Robert Hayes), Jun Kunimura (Jun’ichi Nojima), Tadanobu Asano (Tatsuo Matsumura), Ryo Kase (Kiyoshi), Katherine Jenkins (Millie), Lily Robinson (Diandra), Akiko Iwase (Masako Matsumura) and others.
Студии Metalwork Pictures, Head Gear Films, Infinitum Nihil
Year of issue 2020 (in Ukraine 2021)
Site IMDb

First of all, the film introduces the viewer to a photographer named William Eugene Smith, at the beginning of the picture he is at the end of his career and personal life. Smith is bankrupt, writing a will for children who do not want to communicate with him. We see him in a rather vile state, not knowing why the hero is looking at old pictures and getting drunk in his loft to the sounds of jazz.

Director Andrew Levitas, who doesn’t have a lot of film experience, doesn’t have time to submit a brief backstory for the character, which is pretty interesting on its own. The fact is that William Eugene Smith is a well-known American photojournalist for Ziff-Davis Publishing and Life, who filmed events on the front lines. During World War II, William documented the moments that took place during the American offensive against Japan.

Photographing U.S. Marines and Japanese POWs, Smith took a stand of his own, saying that his photographs speak out against the greed, stupidity, and bigotry that fueled the war. His black-and-white footage shows the horror of the living, surrounded by evidence of someone else’s death. In fact, William almost died himself, having been wounded during the battle for Okinawa, which interrupted his reporting for a while.

The war was not the only source of stories for William Eugene Smith. He shot social photo essays, observing the work of miners and doctors, and also photographed jazz musicians performing in Manhattan with particular passion (from 1957 to 1965, William took 40,000 film shots and recorded a lot of audio – these materials have now been turned into art The Jazz Loft Project).


But back to the events of the movie. We see the main character in 1971, when all the bright and exciting reporting ended, and the memories of the horrors of the war remained in his head. He still collaborates with the popular magazine Life, but there the photographer is no longer taken seriously. Smith becomes ecstatic until he is approached by Eileen, a Japanese activist who asks William to return to Japan to investigate the poisoning of Minamata residents.

This plot takes place quite quickly, and the plot of the film moves to the Japanese coast, dotted with fishermen. There, the hero of Johnny Depp at first rather sluggishly and indifferently communicates with the locals, clicking neutral shots. Over time, the photojournalist sees more and more people with paralysis and convulsions, he gradually delves into their situation and begins to take pictures that can expose the activities of a large chemical company that caused the disease.


Usually famous actors, by their presence in films, draw attention to social or environmental issues. In Minamata, as strange as it may sound, Johnny Depp really draws the audience in at first, but as the story progresses, it doesn’t help to feel the real tragedy at all. It seems that the actor is just close in spirit to another role, where he portrays a life-weary person with alcohol addiction (not so long ago, Depp already played such a character in the drama The Professor).

It’s good that according to the script of the film, the character of William Eugene Smith is a guide to the inhabitants of Minamata – they arouse more interest with their actions and words than a tired American photographer. Japanese activists are fighting a cold-blooded factory owner who sees the victims as just minor casualties for a greater good. To refute this point of view, the filmmakers show ordinary families in which parents anxiously care for children born with pathologies.


At such moments, the director recreates real photographs of William Eugene Smith taken during a trip to Japan. One such shot is of a mother bathing her daughter, showing the effects of Minamata disease (the image is known as Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath).

Alas, along with such moments in the film, pompous dialogues between a photographer and a factory owner (as well as stilted phone conversations with an editor of Life) appear in the film, which take away the status of a worthwhile drama from Minamata.

Pros: the history of the city of Minamata; recreation of famous footage of William Eugene Smith; Japanese activist line Cons: No brief backstory on who photographer Smith is in the film; Johnny Depp seems to be playing himself again; bombastic dialogues Output:

a tape that is more interesting with the screening of real events underlying the script, and not with the participation of a famous actor.

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