Minamata Parent Guide
This true story is both tragic and heartfelt - and contains extreme profanity.
Parent Movie Review
American photographer W. Eugene Smith’s (Johnny Depp) best days and best work are both behind him. His early collections of photographs from the American campaign in the Pacific during WWII are some of his most famous images, but the experience left him wounded and traumatized. Estranged from his ex-wife and children, Smith lives alone in a small New York apartment, drinking heavily, smoking constantly, and taking more than a little bit of amphetamines. While negotiating an advertisement deal with Fujifilm, Smith meets Aileen (Minami), who convinces him of the need to document what is currently happening in Minamata; a small fishing village in Japan whose residents have been suffering from acute mercury poisoning as a result of the Chisso chemical company dumping waste in the ocean. After selling the idea to Robert (Bill Nighy) at Life magazine, Smith finds himself trying to bring a story together in Japan. But the desire for privacy from the locals in combination with extreme hostility from Chisso means this might be Smith’s hardest story…
As with many big issue films, this can be a difficult watch, especially for young viewers. The tragic symptoms of Minamata disease are obviously heart-wrenching, and the story of corporate indifference to human suffering is one that has not become any less relevant since 1971. Nor has the significance of photography, not only in telling a story but in putting a spotlight on the humanity of the people living through it. Highlighting that significance is where the film shines brightest.
Family audiences, however, are unlikely to appreciate the frequent profanity and substance abuse favored by the protagonist. Smith is a complex character, tormented by a past upon which he built a career. His substance abuse stems from a profound desire to forget the horrors he’s seen and photographed; his profanity is just a personal habit. But whatever the case, that’s going to make Minamata a dubious choice for younger viewers.
Adults, however, who are willing to look past what might be described as a slight overreliance on genre tropes, will find a heartfelt and tragic story about man’s inhumanity to man, the casual cruelty of life. It’s not all doom and gloom, as the film is happy to provide touching moments of human affection and kindness – but it’s not a cheery film, either. Don’t go in expecting a picture-perfect ending.Directed by Andrew Levitas. Starring Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, and Hiroyuki Sanada. Running time: 115 minutes. Theatrical release April 8, 2022. Updated April 9, 2022
Watch the trailer for Minamata
Rating & Content Info
Why is Minamata rated R? Minamata is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout.
Violence: There are brief images of real war violence and casualties. A man cuts his wrist when he smashes a glass ashtray; blood is seen on the floor as he is bandaged. There are scenes of moderate threat and violence, including a man being punched and kicked and left with blood on his head. There are frequent references to the consequences of mercury poisoning and images of people whose minds and bodies have been damaged. there are upsetting scenes in which their families discuss the hardships of caring for them and fighting for compensation. There are brief, distressing images of animals who were test subjects for mercury poisoning. Protestors are exposed to tear gas.
Sexual Content: There is a scene of non-sexual nudity in which a parent bathes their disabled adult child.
Profanity: There are 32 sexual expletives, five scatological curses, and occasional mild profanities and terms of deity.
Substance Use: The main character abuses alcohol, tobacco, and a Dexedrine, a prescription amphetamine.
Page last updated April 9, 2022
Minamata Parents' Guide
How have the Japanese government and Chisso carried out their obligations to those suffering from severe mercury poisoning? How did Smith’s efforts affect the victims fight for justice? What are some modern examples of the power of photography in shaping discussions about issues and events? How has photography changed since 1971?
For more about Minamata disease, the associated history, and the film’s accuracy, you can read these articles:
Wikipedia: Minamata disease
History v Hollywood: Minamata
Related home video titles:
Other films about journalists fighting seemingly impossible battles include Spotlight, The Post, State of Play, Shock and Awe, and Official Secrets. Other films about corporations behaving extraordinarily poorly include Dark Waters, Erin Brockovich, The Rainmaker, Concussion, and Bombshell. Fans may also enjoy the miniseries Dopesick, about the role of Purdue Pharma in creating the opioid crisis with their narcotic painkiller Oxycontin.