Johnny Depp stars as photographer W. Eugene Smith in upcoming film, Minamata

MGM has acquired the rights (in the United States, Canada, Germany and Switzerland) to the drama ‘Minamata’. The movie, set to release in February 2021, stars Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp as W. Eugene Smith during Smith’s work covering an industrial waste scandal and the damage it inflicted upon locals in Minamata, Japan. While it was Smith’s final photo essay assignment, it may also have been his most important work.

Minamata is directed by Andrew Levitas and stars, alongside Depp, Hiroyuki Sanada, Minami, Jun Kunimara, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, Akiko Iwase and Bill Nighy. Credited writers include Andrew Levitas, David Kessler, Jason Forman and Stephen Deuters. The film was first released at the Berlin Film Festival in February of this year and has thus far been positively received. You can view a trailer for Minamata below.

W. Eugene Smith and his then-wife, Aileen Mioko Smith, went to Japan in 1971 after Eugene Smith was contacted by a Japanese activist fighting for the rights of those affected by mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay. The Smith couple ended up staying in Japan for three years, much longer than their initial plans, and they both captured critical images as part of the photo essay and subsequent book, ‘Minamata.

For years, the Chisso Corporation had been dumping industrial wastewater into Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea. This wastewater included methylmercury, which was bio-accumulated into marine life, which was then consumed by locals in the area. This poisoning went on for decades with little to no government intervention.

Eventually, in 1968, the Japanese government issued a statement that recognized Minamata disease as an illness caused by industrial pollution. You can learn more about the disease in this article from Boston University. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning and its symptoms include weakness, reduced vision, damaged hearing and speech, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death. There is also a congenital form that can affect fetuses.

Johnny Depp as W. Eugene Smith in ‘Minamata’

As Boston University writes, the ‘disease was first discovered in Minamata City in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory, which continues from 1932 to 1968.’ Boston University continues, ‘As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognized (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. Lawsuits and claims for compensation continue to this day.’

Undoubtedly, W. Eugene Smith and Aileen Mioko Smith were instrumental in bringing awareness to Minamata disease and those responsible for the contamination. Japanese photographer Ishikawa Takeshi worked as Eugene Smith’s assistant in Minamata for the three years the Smiths were there and aided in creating an homage to W. Eugene Smith for Nippon. Eugene Smith’s first photo essay from Minamata was published in the June 2, 1972 issue of Life and had an immediate, large impact on raising awareness of the ongoing tragedy in Minamata. The Smith’s book in 1975 had ‘an even broader impact.’ Smith received the 1974 Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in Minamata.

‘Eugene Smith photographing Minamata disease victim Tanaka Jitsuko in 1971’ Image and caption credit: Ishikawa Takeshi. Refer to this article for additional images and text from Takeshi.

Of Eugene Smith’s impact on him, Ishikawa says, ‘Everything I consider important in life, including photography and jazz, I learned from Eugene. Back when I first ran into Eugene on the street, my ambition was to make a living taking photographs. Now, I’m always asking myself what I can do [for humanity] as a photographer.’ Ishikawa first encountered Smith in a chance encounter in Tokyo before the Smiths made their way to Minamata. Ishikawa recognized Eugene Smith from a photography textbook and the photographer, fresh out of photography school, lived and worked with the Smiths for the following three years. Ishikawa’s own work from Minamata remains unpublished to preserve the work of the Smiths.

To view many of the important images from Minamata, refer to ‘Minamata: Homage to W. Eugene Smith‘ and ‘W. Eugene Smith’s Warning to the World‘. Although difficult to track down, you can also search ‘Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Choose to Carry the Burden of Courage’. The award-winning book, co-authored by W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, was first published in 1975 and its ISBN is 0030136369.

MGM has acquired the rights (in the United States, Canada, Germany and Switzerland) to the drama ‘Minamata’. The movie, set to release in February 2021, stars Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp as W. Eugene Smith during Smith’s work covering an industrial waste scandal and the damage it inflicted upon locals in Minamata, Japan. While it was Smith’s final photo essay assignment, it may also have been his most important work.
Minamata is directed by Andrew Levitas and stars, alongside Depp, Hiroyuki Sanada, Minami, Jun Kunimara, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, Akiko Iwase and Bill Nighy. Credited writers include Andrew Levitas, David Kessler, Jason Forman and Stephen Deuters. The film was first released at the Berlin Film Festival in February of this year and has thus far been positively received. You can view a trailer for Minamata below.

W. Eugene Smith and his then-wife, Aileen Mioko Smith, went to Japan in 1971 after Eugene Smith was contacted by a Japanese activist fighting for the rights of those affected by mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay. The Smith couple ended up staying in Japan for three years, much longer than their initial plans, and they both captured critical images as part of the photo essay and subsequent book, ‘Minamata’.
For years, the Chisso Corporation had been dumping industrial wastewater into Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea. This wastewater included methylmercury, which was bio-accumulated into marine life, which was then consumed by locals in the area. This poisoning went on for decades with little to no government intervention.
Eventually, in 1968, the Japanese government issued a statement that recognized Minamata disease as an illness caused by industrial pollution. You can learn more about the disease in this article from Boston University. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning and its symptoms include weakness, reduced vision, damaged hearing and speech, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death. There is also a congenital form that can affect fetuses.

Johnny Depp as W. Eugene Smith in ‘Minamata’

As Boston University writes, the ‘disease was first discovered in Minamata City in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory, which continues from 1932 to 1968.’ Boston University continues, ‘As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognized (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. Lawsuits and claims for compensation continue to this day.’
Undoubtedly, W. Eugene Smith and Aileen Mioko Smith were instrumental in bringing awareness to Minamata disease and those responsible for the contamination. Japanese photographer Ishikawa Takeshi worked as Eugene Smith’s assistant in Minamata for the three years the Smiths were there and aided in creating an homage to W. Eugene Smith for Nippon. Eugene Smith’s first photo essay from Minamata was published in the June 2, 1972 issue of Life and had an immediate, large impact on raising awareness of the ongoing tragedy in Minamata. The Smith’s book in 1975 had ‘an even broader impact.’ Smith received the 1974 Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in Minamata.

‘Eugene Smith photographing Minamata disease victim Tanaka Jitsuko in 1971’ Image and caption credit: Ishikawa Takeshi. Refer to this article for additional images and text from Takeshi.

Of Eugene Smith’s impact on him, Ishikawa says, ‘Everything I consider important in life, including photography and jazz, I learned from Eugene. Back when I first ran into Eugene on the street, my ambition was to make a living taking photographs. Now, I’m always asking myself what I can do [for humanity] as a photographer.’ Ishikawa first encountered Smith in a chance encounter in Tokyo before the Smiths made their way to Minamata. Ishikawa recognized Eugene Smith from a photography textbook and the photographer, fresh out of photography school, lived and worked with the Smiths for the following three years. Ishikawa’s own work from Minamata remains unpublished to preserve the work of the Smiths.
To view many of the important images from Minamata, refer to ‘Minamata: Homage to W. Eugene Smith’ and ‘W. Eugene Smith’s Warning to the World’. Although difficult to track down, you can also search ‘Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Choose to Carry the Burden of Courage’. The award-winning book, co-authored by W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, was first published in 1975 and its ISBN is 0030136369.Read MoreArticles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

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