The Minamata city is a small place far away from the center of Japan, and located in the southern part of Kyushu. It was a place surrounded by natural resources and full of history, from the thirteenth century even until the Meiji period, it was under the influence of the local lords. However, from the late Meiji period to the Taisho period, things changed dramatically – a factory was built. As one of the rising zaibatsu, the Nichitsu Company brought electricity and jobs to the local people of Minamata; nevertheless, it also brought them one of the most horrifying pollution disease, mercury poison from the wastewater discharge from the factory. As populous of low social status, they did not have a voice that attracts others to listen. The government and the overpowering company ignored these voices until the case became extremely severe and finally make the public confront to the true condition of the brutally destroyed nature and the negatively affected people.
These people of Minamata have been living there for generations. The natural environment around them cannot be defined as simple as a place they build their house on or the bay they go for fun once in a while. It is the opposite. The sea they fish in and the lands they cultivate are the source of their living. These nature dwellers had already became one with the local eco-system until the factory was built. Since then, the Minamata Bay was polluted and the creatures living in it became contaminated. As a member of the local eco-system, people consume locally catch seafood while taking in chemicals that had been accumulated in the food chain. Eventually, their brains got eaten up and became incapable of doing daily tasks.
In the film, there are many shots of nature: the sea, the sky, and birds soaring in the sky. These scenes of nature are used as transition for interviews of different patients. The scene of the soaring bird in the heaven also creates a dramatic contrast between the lively bird and the disable boy who was born with the Minamata sickness. As a boy in the age of seven, he was suppose to be as free as a bird: jump or run whenever he please instead of helplessly crawling on the tatami and spit out mumbling words. This is not the only time Tsuchimoto uses this technique to create comparison and contrast of the situations of the patients. This sequence of shots is repeated several times across the documentary and reveal to the audience about the lives of young victims and their lost of the right to grow up as a healthy, normal adults. They are truly the innocent victims of the cost of industrial modernization and the great profits earned by the zaibatsu.
This deadly disaster happened in Minamata should serve as reminders of how costly pollution can be, not only to the environment but also to human beings. What’s more, we need to reconsider the relationship between us, human, and the great nature. What will we, or even our next generation, pay for the careless damage we done to nature? Though this pollution tragedy has already past and people have chosen to forget and move on rather than relive the suffering, one must learn from these mistakes and catastrophes, not only the Japanese, but everyone in the world. For, it is only by remembering that we can hope to avoid another tragedy to mankind.