Noriaki Tsuchimoto was a distinguished Japanese documentary film-maker whose work displayed a consistent political commitment. He was best known for an extensive series of films tracing the impact of Minamata disease, the form of mercury poisoning that was one of the most notorious side effects of Japan’s postwar economic development.
A chemical plant run by the Chisso Corporation had been emptying waste water containing mercury into the sea near the town of Minamata on the southern island of Kyushu. Absorbed by the fish, which were the staple diet of the locals, the mercury built up to dangerous levels in human tissues, causing muscular weakness, brain damage and death. Later a number of disfigured and mentally handicapped children were born in the area. Tsuchimoto’s 1971 film, Minamata: The Victims and Their World, juxtaposed footage of the victims and their campaign for compensation with depictions of the traditional lifestyles threatened by industrialisation.
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