Directed by Andrew Levitas.
Starring Johnny Depp, Minami, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bill Nighy, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Akiko Iwase, and Katherine Jenkins.
Veteran photojournalist W. Eugene Smith embarks on a life altering journey to Japan, to document the devastating effects of mercury poisoning in the Minamata coastal community…
Johnny Depp is truly one of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic performers, of that there is no doubt. Before being catapulted to the box-office stratosphere with Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp’s work was predominantly relegated to dark-fantasy dramas conjured up by auteurs such as Tim Burton, Lasse Hallstrom, Terry Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch. Although Capt. Jack Sparrow would always be the role he’d be remembered for, the sequel spawning Hollywood machine hasn’t swayed Depp’s irrevocable affinity towards modestly budgeted indie flicks. In between big-budget tentpole releases Depp has dipped his shoes in a multitude of fascinating indie projects over the years, unfortunately only a handful of them earned the recognition they deserved. In the flashy world of showbiz where high-priced award campaigns and corrupted power-brokers have become the norm, films like Minamata get swept under like confetti in a hurricane. But I digress, let’s talk about the movie, shall we?
In 1970’s America W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) has made a name for himself in the world of photojournalism, for the stunningly haunting photo-essays he’d done for Life magazine. Now wasted, broke and estranged from family the reclusive Smith is convinced by a passionate Japanese translator, Aileen (Minami) to document the outbreak of a mysterious disease in the coastal community of Minamata, which maybe linked to the toxic industrial spillage of the chemical company Chisso. With the blessing of Life’s intrepid editor Hayes (Bill Nighy) Smith departs to Japan armed with his Minolta camera, to lay bare the pernicious effects of corporate greed and its devastating impact on people.
It’s nigh impossible to find a Johnny Depp performance that you’ll hate, even his more mediocre efforts have a certain degree of unmistakable style that’s all his own…he’s Johnny Depp for Christ’s sake! Granted, his better days maybe behind him, but that certainly doesn’t mean the talented star has tapped out, no sir. With Minamata, we can see that Depp has really invested his time and effort to understand the enigmatic photojournalist’s character. The physical transformation is impressive yes, but it’s how Depp has captured the inner turmoil of an artist in conflict, that’s most captivating. This is best exemplified in the scene where a broken Smith drunk dials Hayes, after his lab gets torched by corporate goons and confesses how he should’ve taken the bribe offered by Chisso corp. He just witnessed his life’s passion go up in flames, and the guilt of turning the money down is eating away at him now. It is quite a poignant scene that will certainly pull at your heartstrings, but to be quite honest there are many instances like this littered throughout the film’s runtime like tiny bittersweet confetti.
Japanese actress Minami turns in a phenomenal performance that is both emotional and raw, she is undoubtedly the heart of this movie. The ever-dependable Hiroyuki Sanada makes the most of his fleeting screen-time, but the focus of this endeavor is primarily on Smith and Depp truly knocks it out of the park. From a technical perspective the film owes much to DOP Benoit Delhomme for his contribution and composer Ryuchi Sakamoto for the emotive score. If there is a minor quibble it’s concerning the pacing of the flick, which occasionally stumbles in places but for the most part filmmaker Andrew Levitas does an admirable job breathing life into one of the most important chapters of W. Eugene Smith’s life.
Minamata is a poignant film featuring an emotionally resonating performance by Depp, and that’s enough reason to just go see this captivating drama. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.