EARTH Thailand


FRANCE24 22 October 2021

60 years before Fukushima, Japan was hit by an ecological disaster in the port city of Minamata. Forgotten by some, its memory is preserved by the illness that bears its name: Minamata disease, or severe mercury poisoning. Now, a new film about one of the worst cases of industrial poisoning in modern times is about to be screened in Minamata for the first time.

Minamata is a port city in southwest Japan whose main activity is fishing. In the 1950s, the city’s inhabitants fell severely ill due to severe mercury poisoning that came from contaminated fish. But it took months before the cases were traced back to the chemical giant CHISSO, which had been discharging a derivate of mercury into the bay since 1932. The contamination is estimated to have caused more than 1,500 deaths, along with severe disabilities and birth defects among the people of Minamata. 

In 1971, US photojournalist Eugene Smith and his partner Aileen uncovered the story, publishing the first photographs of the victims in Life magazine. This year, a new American film based on the couple's investigation starring Johnny Depp as Eugene Smith was released. Through the film, the Japanese are rediscovering the tragedy, as thousands of people in the region still wait for recognition of what happened to them. 

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