Capital Celluloid 2022 — Day 249: Thu Sep 8

Minamata: The Victims and Their World (Tsuchimoto, 1971): ICA Cinema, 8pm

This film is part of the ICA Cinema retrospective devoted to the great Japanese documentary filmmaker Noriaki Tsuchimoto (full details here).

Sight and Sound review:
A turning-point in Tsuchimoto’s life and work came with his involvement in the struggle for recognition and reparation for the victims of an environmental disaster and a devastating neurological disease both known by the name of the fishing village of Minamata. From the 1930s, the Chisso Corporation had been dumping mercury-filled waste from its local plant into the sea; the mercury attacked the central nervous system of those who ate locally caught fish, causing a range of debilitating symptoms and even death. The disease also struck foetuses carried by afflicted women, causing deformities and mental impairment.

The body of work Tsuchimoto devoted to the victims, their families and their surroundings encompassed 17 films, of which Minamata: The Victims and Their World is the most widely known. Tsuchimoto isn’t afraid to let his camera roll for extended shots of afflicted patients, with results that are alternately harrowing, tender and deeply sad. He also commits himself to the texture and details of the everyday lives of the people of Minamata: a striking sequence shows an octopus fisherman trudging through shallow water, the many-tentacled bundle of his catch dangling behind him on a rope. In such scenes, the film suggests life continuing and the possibility of renewal.

Tsuchimoto uses the synchronisation of sound and image as an emotional element. At one point a woman says with great passion that, having seen the truth of the state, she must fight against it till the end of her life – but at the same time a non-synchronous close-up shows her talking much more composedly. The sound-image relationship reaches its height of complexity in the film’s magnificent set-piece sequence of a Chisso shareholders’ meeting, where a group of Minamata Disease sufferers and their supporters confront the corporate officers over the company’s responsibility for the tragedy. As we watch the executives on stage making their ceremonial speeches, their voices are completely absent from the soundtrack, while their accusers’ impassioned voices alone are heard. Watching such scenes in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in north-east Japan and the nuclear crisis at Fukushima, it is impossible not to feel the resonance of Tsuchimoto’s examination of environmental disaster and governmental and corporate responsibility.
Chris Fujiwara

Here (and above) is the trailer.

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