Statement on Minamata – The Victims and Their World


Production still Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World] (Noriaki Tsuchimoto, 1971)

We filmed every day, and after nearly 140 days of shooting our memory of each single day is vivid and precise. What we filmed was not a daily journal, but the climax of problems that accumulated while waiting for a solution.

One day, the factories steaming in the sun. Another day, frames of mullet fishing. Sick children and the environment surrounding them. At the town hall with movie cameras and recording devices. That is how we filmed Minamata and the Minamata disease.

Sometimes we filmed people we had already filmed. With the same lens we tried to capture the same chimney stack – we had no choice but to find out and understand more in depth.

We thought we would make the movie within four months, but I felt it was not enough. I wanted to place more emphasis to the sick people dying, the disgraced victims of illness and, especially, the children born with abnormalities.

Even if there were divergent opinions and controversies in regard to the disease in the families we visited, every time we saw the ill we were struck by the terrifying reality of that suffering; every time, even though we were calm, we were overwhelmed with despair.

Each of these families suffered for ten years and more the heavy burden of the disease; even if neglected, the victims are still there, as terrifying evidence, should we be prepared to forget that the disease and the accusations, so easily forgotten about, still implacably exist.

“Poor” victims, “horrible” disease. It was so easy to find these words to describe the Minamata disease, and it was so easy to forget, in everyday life, the reality these words hint at.

A little girl cannot go to the bathroom without an enema and her mother explains how, in shame, the girl still feels like running, and the ensuing struggles and difficulties. She suggests there are things she can’t even discuss with her husband.

The father is in the background, quiet. The little girl, scared, casts a glance at her mother. And the movie continues, leaving these moments of suffering behind. My fingers clasp the microphone.

This experience does not come from the world of literature, it does not belong to the world of imagination, it is the very world of victims, looking into the movie camera, and in cold blood we commit the atrocity of reproducing in film what we should not even be allowed to see.

This experience plunged me into the void of the desert. I vomited, upset by the haunting of evil and, at times, while going back home, up the hill, with the recording device on my shoulder, I fell to the ground, sickened by the psychological tension.

It is a shared experience for all the crew members: whenever we see the factories and the sewage or the faces of the inhabitants of the town, we realize all we have filmed is not enough; other images come to our mind, and then we feel we should start over to portray everything each of us has seen and heard.

We all had our own personal thoughts, at night, about what we were to film the next day; we all had our own reality. And there was no relief, at night, from the painful burden of what we were doing. But during the day, during the shoot, even if we all had our own precise task, we would feel a sort of physical intoxication, as if we were one.

We filmed every day with our eyes wide open; we shot over twenty hours of film. By examining the footage, things have become clearer, they had to, considering our constant contact with the reality of Minamata.

Minamata had been forgotten for 17 years. This abandonment, this silence, was perhaps a symptom of the power of capitalism, of non-caring authorities, of disengaged citizens.

Wasn’t I one of many disengaged citizens? The shame I felt pushed me to shoot this movie, and through it, I hope to ease my guilt. Everything will start by looking at the reality of Minamata, and everybody will be able to see it.

Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972), 115-116. 

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.