Minamata – Film Review

Palace Electric Canberra from 3 June 2021
2020, 115 minutes
Rated MA15+
Directed by Andrew Levitas

This moving film, based on real events and people, opens with a mother bathing her seriously deformed daughter.

It then takes us to 1971 New York, where, following his days as one of the most revered photojournalists of World War II, W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp) had become a recluse, disconnected from society and his career. But a commission from Life magazine editor Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy) sends him to the fishing village of Minamata, Japan, ravaged by mercury poisoning caused by decades of gross industrial negligence by the country’s Chisso Corporation.

Smith immerses himself in the community, documenting its efforts to live with Minamata Disease and the passionate campaign to achieve recognition from Chisso and the Japanese government.

Armed with only his trusty camera, Smith’s images from the toxic village give the disaster a heartbreaking human dimension, and his initial assignment turns into a life-changing experience, including a beating by Yakuza thugs hired by Chisso from which Smith never fully recovered.

Smith’s black-and-white image of the mother and daughter entitled Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, first published in Life when it was still in print, is rightly considered a masterpiece and helped drew the world’s attention to the disaster.

The contrast between Depp’s superb performance in this film, and his farcical 2016 video with then-wife Amber Heard apologising for Heard illegally bringing their dogs into Australia, could not be more stark.


  • Johnny Depp as Eugene Smith
  • Hiroyuki Sanada as Mitsuo Yamazaki
  • Minami Hinase as Aileen
  • Bill Nighy as Robert Hayes
  • Jun Kunimura as Junichi Nojima
  • Tadanobu Asano as Tatsuo Matsumura
  • Ryo Kase as Kiyoshi
  • Katherine Jenkins as Millie
  • Masayoshi Haneda as Enforcer
  • Akiko Iwase as Masako Matsumura