This article appeared in the November 23, 2022 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writing. Sign up for the Letter here.
Minamata: The Victims and Their World (Noriaki Tsuchimoto, 1971)
Named for the small coastal Kumamoto Prefecture city where it was first identified, “Minamata disease” subverts the myths of postwar Japan’s economic miracle, revealing the brutality of capitalism on a human scale. While the Chisso Corporation expanded chemical production, including as a state-backed enterprise in colonized Korea, its Minamata factory disposed of industrial wastewater from 1932 to 1968, contaminating fish and shellfish around Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea. Local communities that had depended on the sea for nourishment and livelihood were severely impacted by this neurological disease caused by methylmercury poisoning.
The filmmaker Noriaki Tsuchimoto—who passed away at the age of 79 in 2008—made a series of urgent documentaries