This film comes to our screens at a high point in political and social commentary that demands change in the way we live, to protect not only our environment but our future generations. MINAMATA shows this story through the eyes of a photographer who not only brought this story to the world but also the pacific theatre of World War II. Levitas doesn’t emphasize his personal battles, but gently reminds you throughout, of what Eugene has seen and how it has shaped him as a photographer.
Depp plays Eugene as an artistic, loner, with a drinking problem. At times I felt Jack Sparrow coming through in his drunken moments and I expected to not like his character from the beginning scenes with Robert Hayes (Nighy). But the balance Depp portrayed his frustration juxtaposed his empathy made him relatable and engaging to watch. His love/hate relationship with photography made his story more fulfilling as the push and pull of the drama gave well-paced tension and relief.
This is emphasized by the relationship between Ailene and Eugene. She could make him do anything with a steely look and brings some of the funnier light-hearted scenes that bring their relationship closer. Minami and Depp had great chemistry, like the relationship that builds between Eugene and the Japanese village was similarly the heart of the film.
While the first half of the film felt like a slow burn, to build tension and create the mood of the small town, the second half really makes this film stand out. As the momentum picked up, it was scenes that lingered that were the most powerful. Such as the scene where the famous photograph ‘Tomoko in Her Bath’ (1971) was taken. They took their time and respected the process that Eugene, at this point bandaged and beaten, went through to respectfully take the most important image in the editorial. The camera had a presence and was one of the best scenes in the film.
The colours used built an absorbing mood. Blue, green and red light throughout, either artificial or natural was an interesting choice for a photographer who only shot with black and white film. The warmth in the village and Eugene’s apartment juxtaposed the industrial coldness of the Chisso manufacturing plant and Life magazine office building foregrounded the story.
Although I felt the first half of the film could have been tightened, Levitas has produced a beautiful and respectful film that comes at a poignant time in the present discourse. The true story holds your attention but following a photographer that played a role in showing this tragedy to the world was a visually rewarding endeavour for the viewer.