Minamata: Food a Catalyst for Action

Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s “Minamata: The Victims and Their World” is a poignant and sympathetic documentary that uses title cards, interviews and various other documented footage to illustrate the horrific and seemingly hopeless situation that the people of Minamata suffered through. It chronicles the genesis of the disease, the subsequent outbreak and the arduous fight locals had to put up in order to receive fair compensation. This entire situation is tragically ironic in that the food these people relied on for their ability to survive was also the direct cause of their suffering and death. The film begins with a series of expository title cards that help establish what is going on and builds a knowledgeable foundation for the viewers to build upon. Minamata Disease impairs basic motor functions, numbs the senses and in extreme cases causes insanity, paralysis and death. The root cause is ingestion of abnormal quantities of mercury. Pollutants from wastewater released from the Chisso chemical plant accumulated in fish and other sea creatures that were being eaten by the local population and wildlife. Picture 3The first images we see are of a solitary fishing boat floating on the still waters of Minamata Bay. This is an important opening sequence because the audience is introduced to the group most affected (fishermen and their families) and also includes a lot of subtle, yet telling symbolism. The lone fishing boat surrounded by endless ocean can represent the people of Minamata and the isolation they feel as they fight for their voices to be heard by Chisso and the government. The still waters are indicative of the calm demeanor of the townspeople, yet it also masks the churning unrest and action swirling below the surface, waiting to flow at full force once the outbreak is unleashed. The narrative carefully divulges information and we, the audience, are exposed to the disease and learn about it much in the way the victims do in a slow and gradual pace. Close shots of victims and survivors (often in their homes) add a personal and intimate tone bringing the viewer right into their lives, making it easier to sympathize with them.  Memorial shrines of deceased victims juxtapose subtitles with patient numbers, but seeing their faces humanizes them and accentuates the suffering and sense of loss experienced by the survivors.  This stands in contrast to government and factory officials who are rarely shown speaking and always shown at a distance to create a feeling of detachment for the viewer. Victims react to officials lack of action.Tainted seafood brings great tragedy to the people and area surrounding Minamata, yet this horrific situation ignites a fire of justice that causes people to gather and rally together. It forcefully shakes the people into action as they show Chisso and the Japanese government that accountability for polluting the environment must be taken. This documentary has a sense of bias to it, and never really looks at things from Chisso’s side. However, Chisso’s silence coupled with the government’s inaction says a lot more about their views of Minamata than any documentarian could hope to convey.

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