A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Helping others in need takes compassion, courage, and empathy. Teamwork can make tough work, like protesting, easier and foster community. Groups fighting for a common cause need perseverance to be successful.
Positive Role Models
Eugene has a tough, jaded exterior, but he has compassion and empathy for humanity deep down, as seen in his photojournalism work and his perseverance in helping a Japanese fishing town win against a chemicals conglomerate. He, Aileen, and the town's protesters work together using perseverance, courage, and teamwork to achieve their goal.
While the film, which is mostly set in Japan, features a White American in the middle of a Japanese protest movement, Eugene is written in a way that doesn't make him a "White savior." Instead, it's clear that he's an outsider who's been brought into a situation because of his international fame; the Japanese protesters want him there so he can take their case to Life magazine, adding more force to their movement. Meanwhile, the protesters are written as capable, fully-realized characters who are fighting for their lives against the company that's poisoned their water and made so many of them sick. Protest leader Mitsuo is charismatic in his righteous anger, providing a staunch counterbalance to the film and keeping it from being just a story about Eugene. And the film does a notable job of compassionately showcasing disabled people as three-dimensional characters, rather than "inspiration porn." But Aileen's characterization falls a little bit into female-stereotype territory, as she's largely there as support for the leading man. (The real Aileen Smith told The Guardian that she was already married to Eugene when they helped the protesters and that she was disappointed in the film for lessening her role in the protest.)
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Violence & Scariness
Dream sequences with war. Dead body (mercury poisoning) shown. Police brutality and violence at a protest. A character cuts his wrist in protest and survives.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Non-sexual nudity: photo with a mother helping her disabled daughter take a bath.
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Language includes swearing, ableist words, and exclamatory uses of God: "fruit loops," "f--k," "goddamn," "d--k," "hell," "dumba--," "s--t," "son of a bitch," "Christ," "Jesus."
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Products & Purchases
Mention of Fujifilm.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Eugene drinks and takes drugs in several scenes; in others, he mentions his substance use.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Minamata is a fact-based drama about W. Eugene Smith (Johnny Depp), a Life magazine photojournalist who goes to Japan in the early 1970s to document an environmental protest against a chemical company. Mature content includes language ("f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," and more), substance use (drinking and drug use), and a few scenes of violence (dream sequences with war, a dead body, police brutality, someone cutting their own wrist). But the film also highlights the importance of protesting and the power of community, teamwork, empathy, compassion, and perseverance. And while the story is about a White American in the middle of a Japanese protest movement, it's not a "White savior" narrative. It's made clear that he was brought into the situation because of his international fame; the Japanese protesters want him there so he can publicize their case and add more force to their movement. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This drama is another entry in Depp's filmography that successfully showcases his expansive ability to lose himself in characterization. The actor is masterful at portraying Smith's world-weariness, as well as his deep well of love for humanity, especially when it comes to huge movements -- whether that means documenting the Vietnam War or a protest.
Thankfully, Minamata doesn't go the way of The Last Samurai or other films that set a White protagonist as the emotional center of a film about Japanese people. Yes, we're following Eugene's journey, but we're also following the townspeople's journeys equally, especially when it comes to the force that is Mitsuo. Sanada is able to show off more of his acting chops here than he is in American productions, and it's a joy to see. The only issue is that you want to see even more of his magnetic presence on-screen. Overall, Minamata is a moving story about a group of people who succeed, even if it's a small success, against the so-called untouchable capitalist fat cats. It offers a blueprint for others to become activists, knowing that they can change society by joining with other like-minded people and staying the course toward victory.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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