Nourishment to Fraility

Eyes that cannot see, hands that cannot grasp, minds that cannot process, the senses of Minamata victims remain diminished after a severe intoxication of mercury poisoning. Noriaki Tsuchimoto—director and editor of Minamata: The Victims and Their World—depicts the current condition and distressing plight borne by affected families. He not only portrays the impassive Chisso Corporation and the delayed government reaction, but he also highlights the neglect and insolence that society inflicts upon the victims. He chronicles food as a disease that forces a struggle between casualties and polluters. Through a practice of dramatic, poetic shots and rhythmic, intense soundtracks, Tsuchimoto illustrates the corrupted relationship between Minamata’s humanity and food: transforming food’s role from a symbol of nourishment to a source of fatality.

Contact with the disease

Contact with the disease

The opening sequence devotes priceless seconds to understanding the lifestyles and close connections among Minamata residents. Representing an array of close-up and long-range shots of the sea, fish, and boats, Tsuchimoto examines the intimate interactions and relations that Minamata citizens have with their environment. This close-up scene exemplifies Tsuchimoto’s goal to portray the bond between nature and man: Even though he knows about the fish’s toxicity, he still remains in contact with the sea creature. At the time of water pollution, food acts as a symbol of sustenance and support in the town of Minamata; the community depends on its fisheries and seafood as a foundation of economic stability and basic survival. Food epitomizes the producer of life in such a remote location—it feeds the children, it supplies the livestock, it develops the ecosystem. Food’s positive allure starts to transform into a negative appeal: If a person consumes seafood, then he/she might acquire severe consequences. This unfortunately strains the indirect association between food’s objective and the people’s trust.

Grief in expression

Grief in expression

Since the documentary presents a low-budget cost, money becomes difficult to attribute to each aspect of the film—including sound. The lack of synch between soundtracks and images bestows an unorthodox film quality: generating an interesting dilemma to considering Tsuchimoto’s message. The emotionally distressing stories that Tsuchimoto’s characters describe are paired with an assortment of images picturing the dead, their families, and unappetizing food. The unparalleled synch between sound/image compels the audience to listen to the words more intently and to analyze the speaker’s face more cautiously. It becomes apparent that the infected fish and food have fully digressed from an archetype of positive nutrition to a symbol of deplorable death. Through the suffering voices and hopeless faces, Tsuchimoto represents the pain that Minamata residents feel. He innovatively manipulates the soundtracks to demonstrate how the polluted food causes calamitous disruption in these peoples’ lives: the citizens express their testimonials with sadness in their vocals and gloominess in their grimaces. Food’s blissful intentions diminish into nothingness.

Tokiyoshi Onoue enhances the sympathetic appeal

Tokiyoshi Onoue enhances the sympathetic appeal

To emphasize this heartbreaking tragedy further, Tsuchimoto illuminates an individual account of Minamata’s disease—Tokiyoshi Onoue’s experience. Tsuchimoto utilizes Tokiyoshi as a representation of Minamata as a whole. While Tokiyoshi explains his personal affliction by the disease, Tsuchimoto films the resident’s everyday fishing and eating routine. This allows the audience to gradually sympathize with the storyteller; acknowledge how much anguish and pain he feels; and identify the role of food in an altered environment. Upon recognition of the disease, Tokiyoshi—and the other fishermen, families, and residents—established a perception of trust with the sea and its inhabitants. However, the fishes’ attainment of mercury poisoning damages that trust between Minamata’s people and food’s safety. The positive role of food continues to dwindle and disappear.

Seen through a historical lens, the Minamata disease affects a handful of Japanese people—set within a remote location, the town becomes isolated from mainstream Japanese society and culture. Emerging from the industrial wastewater produced by Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory, the disease starts to affect the fish and shellfish since they begin to accumulate toxic chemicals. Tsuchimoto begins to chronicle the struggles of families who attempt to obtain reparations from Chisso. Factually represented, the victims’ loved ones join together in song to voice their misery over death. They conclusively storm the representatives of the corporation to demand proper compensation for afflicted pain.

During the 1950s in Japan, a heavy concentration of industrial facilities in populated areas began to cause environmental pollution—large-scale industrialization develops because of the substantial damage suffered from World War II. This detail explains the abrupt consummation of Chisso’s growth. Tsuchimoto uses this historical fact to represent the quality of life issues, population densities, environmental pollution, and quality of housing as a problem in Japanese society.

Tsuchimoto offers emotional anecdotes, passionate shots, and powerful soundtracks to emphasize the affect of Chisso’s wrongdoing and the transition of food’s function. Food first acts as a life-giver, delivering the citizens a mode of basic subsistence and financial profitability. Because of unforeseen circumstances, food then evolves into a death-provider—forcing the citizens to live with sickness and disabilities. Tsuchimoto not only defines food as health and wellness, but he also expresses food as duplicitous and deceitful.

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