Minamata (2020)

Minamata (2020)

Movie Details

Minamata (2020)
Director: Andrew Levitas
Cast: Akiko Iwase, Kogarashi Wakasugi, and Johnny Depp
Movie Type: Thriller/Documentary
Release date: 4 February 2021
IMDB Rating: 7.2
Languages: English and Japanese
Duration: 1h 55m




In Czech cinemas (after all, just like in foreign ones) drought still prevails, so films that you wouldn’t expect come to our cinemas. One of them is undoubtedly Minamata, a small independent piece with Johnny Depp, but it came out two years ago when Hollywood broke the stick over the popular actor, and the title ended on VOD in most countries. But the Czech distributors probably thought after the actor’s successful trial with Amber Heard and regained media popularity, that this backward could find its place in cinemas. This piece, however, does not completely sink cinema-goers into their seats with its emotions or tension.

We follow the true story of top photographer  W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, a legend in the industry and a veteran of Life magazine, but by the early 1970s he was already burnt out, drinking, in debt, everywhere he looked, swearing at everyone, and his family wanted nothing to do with him. But then a Japanese translator came to him asking for help. In her hometown, the fishing town of Minamata, there are many tragedies. The local chemical factory discharges poisonous substances into the local waters, after which people in the city have health problems, others suffer serious disabilities and in many cases, the poisoning ends in death. However, neither the factory management nor the Japanese government wants to hear about the so-called Minamata disease, so poor people and activists hope that the world will finally learn about the tragedy. And Smith is supposed to arrange that, who can change the whole situation with his photos.

The subject is therefore very promising and strong, and the independent conditions could have warranted a bold approach. But the direction performed by Andrew Levitas ended somewhere halfway. Although the director knows how to create the right intimate and personal atmosphere with the right slow pace, he is not in a hurry and tries to make the individual ugly images of sick people sound enough. And at the same time, he manages to show quite successfully what the true power of photography is. The period feel is not a problem for him either, the camera can conjure up several nice shots and in the weaker moments, it can be held up by the accurate Johnny Depp in all respects, who pulls this piece of biography inexorably forward and proves that he deserves another big role.

Even so, Levitas wastes a lot of potential and doesn’t exploit a strong theme nearly as much as it deserves. Instead of going in a bold direction, the second half goes the classic Hollywood route of following a template and absolutely nothing surprises you. For most of the time, the director skims over the surface, the individual scenes do not resonate with the person in any way, and in terms of emotions, it is a relatively cold and inaccessible film. In addition, Levitas is not a confident narrator in many passages. The relationships between the characters are just casually thrown in here, the supporting actors are too black and white, and the actions of the main character in the second half seem rather abbreviated and incomplete.

Minamata does, in a way, serve its purpose and deliver one nasty lesson in Japanese history that you may have had little idea about. However, this is the part of history that leaves no traces in you after a few days due to the shaky presentation. And if it wasn’t for Johnny Depp, you’d forget the movie even faster. In the first half, Levitas has a very promising start, but the more he slips into established routines and predictability, unfortunately, he begins to waste potential and become boring. Depp’s last film before an involuntary hiatus is no slouch, but a more confident directorial hand would only benefit him.

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