In Japan, Minamata disease is known as one of four major health crises that helped turned the tide against industrial pollution. Less familiar is the role played by photojournalist W. Eugene Smith in alerting the world to the tragedy of Minamata and the dangers of pollution.
Eugene Smith was already in his fifties when he heard about the poisoning of Minamata, a fishing and industrial community on the coast of Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan. In 1971, he and his wife, Aileen Mioko Smith, moved to Minamata, determined to tell its story through the medium of photojournalism. Their photo essay “Death-Flow from a Pipe,” published in the June 2, 1972, issue of Life, revealed the plight of Minamata’s victims to countless readers in America and beyond. Their 1975 book Minamata had an even broader impact. Smith was awarded the 1974 Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in the city.
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Deadline reports that MGM has acquired the rights for the Johnny Depp drama “Minamata” – chronicling W. Eugene Smith’s last photo essay on the horrific mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan.
The movie follows his journey and all the dangers of creating a photo essay of Minamata, where he lived with his wife between 1971 and 1973. Smith brought to light the story of the effects of mercury poisoning in Minamata, caused by a Chisso factory discharging heavy metals into water sources. He was even attacked by the factory employees who wanted to stop him from publishing the story, which caused him to lose the eyesight in one eye. His photos and words were published in the 1975 book Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage.