Minamata (2020) – Movie Review

Minamata, 2020.

Directed by Andrew Levitas.
Starring Johnny Depp, Minami, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bill Negi, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, John Konimura, Akiko Iwase, and Catherine Jenkins.


Veteran photojournalist W Eugene Smith embarks on a life-changing journey to Japan, documenting the devastating effects of mercury poisoning in the coastal community of Minamata…

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Johnny Depp is truly one of Hollywood’s most recognizable entertainers, there is no doubt about that. Before tossing to the box office with the stratosphere Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp’s work has mostly been turned into dark fantasy dramas conjured up by authors such as Tim Burton, Lacey Hallstrom, Terry Gilliam, and Jim Jarmusch. While Captain Jack Sparrow will always be the role he will remember, the sequel that spawned the Hollywood machine didn’t dent Depp’s irrevocable affinity for modest-budget indie flicks. Among the big-budget releases, Depp has dip his boots into many great independent projects over the years, and unfortunately, only a few of them have earned the recognition they deserve. In a world of flashy entertainment where expensive award campaigns and corrupt power brokers have become the norm, films like Minamata Drift under like confetti in a hurricane. But I digress, let’s talk about the movie, shall we?

In 1970, America W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) made a name for himself in the world of photojournalism, for the stunning photo essays he published for Life magazine. Now lost, disjointed, and estranged from the family, the reclusive Smith is persuaded by a passionate Japanese translator, Aileen (Minami) to document an outbreak of a mysterious disease in the coastal community of Minamata, possibly linked to the toxic industrial spill of the chemical company Chisso. With the blessing of intrepid Life editor Hayes (Bill Nighy) Smith, he departs for Japan armed with a Minolta camera, to reveal the harmful effects of corporate greed and its devastating effect on people.

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It’s almost impossible to find a Johnny Depp performance that you’ll hate, even his modest efforts have a certain degree of unmistakable style that’s all his own… It’s Johnny Depp for Christ! Sure, his better days may have been behind him, but that certainly doesn’t mean the talented star has done without him, no, sir. with Minamata, we can see that Depp has invested his time and effort to understand the personality of the mysterious photojournalist. The physical transformation is impressive, but that’s how Depp captured the inner turmoil of an artist in conflict, and that’s the most engaging. This is best illustrated in the scene where a drunken Smith calls Hayes, after his lab is set ablaze by corporate idiots and admits how he should have taken the bribe given by Chisso corp. He has just witnessed the passion of his life ignite, and the guilt of rejecting money is now driving away from him. It’s quite a touching scene that would definitely grab your attention, but quite frankly, there are many examples like this littered throughout the movie’s runtime like little bittersweet sweets.

Giving a wonderful performance, emotional and raw, Japanese actress Minami is without a doubt the heart of this movie. The always-reliable Hiroyuki Sanada makes use of his fleeting time on screen, but the focus of this endeavor is primarily on Smith and Depp who really gets him out of the park. From a technical perspective, the film owes a lot to DOP Benoit Delhomme for his contribution and composer Ryuchi Sakamoto to the emotional score. If there’s a slight quirk, it’s about the pace of the flick, which sometimes falters in places, but for the most part, director Andrew Levitas does a great job bringing to life one of the most important chapters in W. Eugene Smith’s life.

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Minamata It is a touching movie that showcases Depp’s emotional performance, which is reason enough to go watch this captivating drama. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Flickering legend evaluation – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Hasitha Fernando is a part-time physician and full-time film practitioner. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.


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