‘Minamata’ Summary & Analysis – A Picture Worth A Thousand Words


W. Eugene Smith once said, “I’ve never made any picture, good or bad, without paying for it in emotional turmoil.” Director Andrew Levitas and Actor Johnny Depp (who also produced the film) have tried their best to visit Eugene’s emotional turmoil in the film Minamata.

It is based on the book Minamata written by Aileen Mioko Smith and Eugene Smith. The film, similarly, follows Eugene’s journey to Japan to cover the cases of Minamata Disease through his art. Johnny Depp leaves no stone unturned in brilliantly portraying Eugene’s character and conflicts.

Plot Summary

Set in 1971, William Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) is an acclaimed photojournalist. But he is broke, wasted, and out of touch. After his famous photo essay, “Country Doctor,” photographed for Life magazine, Eugene struggles with the big question, What’s Next. Unfortunately, it is not only his inspiration that is lacking but also his personal demons that are haunting him.

A Japanese journalist, Aileen Mioko, urges Eugene to cover Minamata disease in Kumamoto, Japan. The locals are protesting against the Chisso corporation that is dumping their toxic waste in their local rivers. But, unfortunately, their voices are being neglected. And Eugene’s pictures will bring their cause in the spotlight.

Initially, Eugene rejects the plea, but when the war nightmares revisited him in his sleep, for his own sanity, he takes up the job.

In Minamata, Eugene fights against the Chisso with the help of local rebels and the journey becomes memorable.

‘Minamata’ Analysis

An artist begins his journey with a selfish dream. But soon one realizes that their talent also holds a social/moral responsibility, which is also a matter of choice. So, if you ask me, what makes a heroes’ journey different and memorable. Then I would say, when he decides to dedicate it for a more notable cause. Not money or fame, but something more significant.

In the film, Eugene finds many hurdles and blockage in his journey. Every time he thought of giving up, he told himself, it’s just money. Why should I care? But then came a moment when he looked at the crippled kid, and the expression on Depp’s face suggested that it is not “just about money.” He has a responsibility. Like Eugene decided to fight for the Minamata community, Johnny Depp also made a conscious choice to produce this film and bring the tale to the world. I want to laud the endeavors of both people.

An enthralling layer in the film follows Eugene’s method of work. When he was teaching photography to Aileen, she bursts with anger against the Chemical Corporation. At this moment, Eugene commented, “transfer your feelings to the picture, so that world might be able to receive it as well.” The line tells us that anger clouds our judgment and creativity. Like Eugene transferred his sentiments to his pictures, each one of us has the power to portray our feelings in our artwork only if we try.

Today, many people click pictures. The world is bombarded with selfies and whatnot. But at one moment, Eugene said, the images capture the person’s soul, and when you click a picture, you take a part of someone’s soul. Thus, it becomes a responsibility for the photographer.

Eugene entered the frame seeking his personal gains but soon realized that the fight was more vital than that. He fought for those who cannot fight for themselves, which was another suggestion that mercury poisoning crippled an entire generation. Someone needed to fight for them. To speak for the numb is what Eugene did with Minamata pictures.

In one of the frames, director Andrew Levitas recreated Eugene’s most acclaimed work, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath. It was also a sheer brilliance of Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, who gave it a distinctive visual touch. If you just look at the picture slowly turning monochrome in the sequence, the tears will automatically drop. I can’t explain, but it’s one of the most brilliantly captured scenes in the film history.

Johnny Depp’s own journey plays an integral part in the portrayal of his character. His remarks like I am an old man and his drinking habits, relates directly to his personal life. I don’t know if Depp is a good actor or not, but he is a charmer that I am sure of. In Minamata, his performance is notable and worth mentioning. Finally, Depp is back.

The film becomes more accurate and the cause more justified due to brilliant direction and masterly written screenplay. Screenplay writer David Kessler has written some of the memorable dialogues in the film that depicts Eugene’s journey as a photojournalist and his methods as an artist.

At the beginning of the film, you will notice a sign on Eugene’s apartment door that reads, “Disturb only to announce the second coming of Christ!” I don’t know who wrote that line or whose idea it was, but we have seen such sarcastic instances in Johnny Depp’s previous performance and work. This might sound like a fan statement, but truthfully, it is.

Read More – ‘Minamata’ Ending, Explained

Minamata is a 2021 drama film directed by Andrew Levitas and produced by Johnny Depp, who also stars in the movie.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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