Johnny Depp plays real-life US photojournalist W Eugene Smith who travels to cover the story of mercury poisoning that caused horrendous disfigurements
Minamata is not a masterpiece and there are one or two cliches here about western saviours and boozy, difficult, passionate journalists who occupy the perennial Venn diagram overlap between integrity and alcoholism. This movies producer-star Johnny Depp has form on this score, with his starstruck impersonation of Hunter Thompson. And once again, he has chosen a role in which he wears a hat indoors. But Minamata is a forthright, heartfelt movie, an old-fashioned issue picture with a worthwhile story to tell about how communities can stand up to overweening corporations and how journalists dedicated to truthful news can help them.
Depp plays real-life US photojournalist W Eugene Smith whose glory days were in the second world war and the decades following, working for Life magazine in that now-forgotten era when analogue cameras were incapable of lying and magazines with compelling photos could command newsstand sales.
The drama finds him in his declining years, drunk, depressed, impossible to work with and of course ripe for Hollywood-style redemption. Apparently by chance, he finds himself befriended by Japanese-American Aileen (Minami Hinase) who alerts him to an environmental atrocity in Japan that he could do something about, if he chose to rouse himself from his grumpy self-indulgent ennui. In the coastal town of Minamata on Japans south-western coast, the Chisso corporation has been dumping mercury waste into the water, which is poisoning the fish and then the humans who eat them causing horrendous disfigurements in men, women and children.