Minamata: Influence of Food on Social Relations

Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s documentary, “Minamata: The Victims and Their World,” portrays a social manifesto movement and hardships suffered by patients with the Minamata disease. Minamata disease can impair motor functions and senses in humans and has killed countless living beings through their consumption of mercury-poisoned seafood. Within this documentary, the unrepresented patients are finally given an opportunity to convey the reality of their difficulties through the various footages, interviews and images. It also depicts the significant effect the food holds over the people of Minamata. Japanese people are increasingly dependent on their local food supply, and it is due to this reliance that the widespread suffering from this venomous disease occurred. Through participatory documentation, it effectively captures a web of complex social relations influenced by the local food consumption in Minamata.

Takae discussing her effect of the Minamata disease on her marriage.

Food plays a key role in the relations between the people of Minamata. This first image is a close-up scene of one of the many patients, Takae Sakamoto. She contracted the disease when she was only seventeen. She married her husband and bore a child but was banished from her husband’s home when they discovered her infliction. Despite the devotion and love between the couple, his family heavily opposed the match, fearing it would negatively influence his younger sisters’ marriages. The Minamata disease disrupted family ties, and even love. Close shots of the victim within the intimate setting of her home evoke feelings of sympathy within the audience. With effective use of both strong quotations and imagery, audiences are capable of recognizing her loneliness and gain a greater understanding of the patients’ everyday lives outside the cinema. Through this documentary, viewers are able to relive the hardships alongside the patients as they narrate their experiences. The scene captures the reality of complex issues and is conveyed with a sense of realism; it feels authentic, untouched, with no pretentiousness to be found. This could not be done without the participatory interaction between the filmmaker and his subject. By approaching the subjects with a warm and engaging attitude, the interviewer is able to bring out the patients’ true emotions, providing a sense of intimacy and domesticity for the viewers. 

Establishment of The Tokyo Accusation Committee make of Minamata patients and their family

Establishment of The Tokyo Accusation Committee leads to change in Minamata community

The Minamata disease may have disrupted families and marriages but it has also brought forth unification among the community through their shared hardships. After the outbreak of the epidemic occurred, the small town was forced into a conflict with the Chisso Company, the party ultimately responsible for the mercury poisoning and resulting disease. Through the company’s irresponsible pollution and neglect, the common people’s lives were ruined and as a result, they allied together through one singular cause and established The Tokyo Accusation Committee. This organization consisted of patients, fishermen, and other related members of the community who banded together to strive for compensation and admission of wrongdoing from the government and guilty parties. As they shared the same local food supply, the community watched in horror as their fellow peers and family members were slowly being struck down by the infectious disease. Having experienced this phenomenon together, they gained the strength and courage to voice their opinions and oppositions. This gathering scene is also a symbolism of power and the potential of a community. The sash that the Minamata patients proudly wear brought a small community together and public recognizes of the struggles. It represents a very strong connection among the people of Minamata and places an emphasis on rallying people to find effective ways and opportunities for expressing their concern to the government.

Even if the epidemic has ended, the victims’ suffering prevails and the fight for Minamata still continues on. A central theme of the documentary is the responsibility of survivors to retell the horrors of their experiences, allowing the struggle against inaction to live on. As viewers of the film, we carry this burden as well. As a result of this disease, people have lost parents, children, family, marriage, love, and more. So now is the time to provide the neglected areas of Japan with our attention and unbiased minds. Food can bring unification, separation and suffering, creating a complicated and slightly paradoxical influence on social relations. However, the most important factor in unifying at social movement is community. With one, little change can be done but through strength in numbers, people are granted with a voice, power, and the ability to make necessary and just changes to society. The future is shaped by the actions and the voices of the present.


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