Johnny Depp to Play War Photographer W. Eugene Smith in 'Minamata'

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Johnny Depp

The film will document how Smith and his wife helped expose the devastating annihilation of a Japanese coastal community by big business and pollution.

Johnny Depp is set to play celebrated war photographer W. Eugene Smith in upcoming drama Minamata.  

Based on the book by Smith and his wife, Aileen Mioko Smith, and adapted for screen by David K. Kessler, the film is being directed by Andrew Levitas, and is being billed as a "real life David versus Goliath story," pitting Smith against a powerful corporation responsible for poisoning the people of Minamata, a Japanese fishing village, in 1971. 

With the glory days of World War II far behind him, Smith has become a recluse, disconnected from society and his career. But an old friend and a commission from “Life Magazine” editor Ralph Graves convince Smith to journey back to Japan to expose a big story: the devastating annihilation of a coastal community, victims of corporate greed and complicit local police and government.

The victims’ case against the corporation responsible for this environmental disaster represents one of the biggest payouts of all time, with present-day sufferers of Minamata disease still in court today seeking compensation. Production has spent time in Minamata meeting some of the victims and their families and the film will be made with their support.

“Working with Johnny to give voice to those who have been silently suffering is a responsibility we do not take lightly" said Levitas. "Much like Eugene Smith in 1971, we could not feel more privileged or humbled to be tasked with the mission of bringing this incredible story to the world."

HanWay Films will handle international sales and distribution and will commence sales at the American Film Market. CAA Media Finance will handle U.S. rights.

"Eugene Smith's personal redemptive story arc is really human and touching as he opens up and connects to the people in front of his camera," said HanWay managing director Gabrielle Stewart. "His story is extremely relevant as it explores how a powerful image can spur the world into action. It was the image of the Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach that galvanized Europe into facing the refugee crisis; we still remember the impact of the Tank Man of the Tiananmen Square photograph; and Eugene Smith's Minamata photograph Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath."

Minamata is being developed by Depp’s production entity Infinitum Nihil and is produced by Sam Sarkar (No Place Like Home), Bill Johnson (Killing Them Softly, The Kids are Alright) and Andrew Levitas (Georgetown, The White Crow, Farming). Jason Forman and Stephen Deuters will executive produce. Heads of department include Cesar Award-nominated cinematographer Benoit Delhomme (The Theory of Everything, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, A Most Wanted Man), production designer Tom Foden (Mirror Mirror, The Village, One Hour Photo) and Kevan Van Thompson (JoJo Rabbit) who line produces and executive produces.

Minamata will start principal production in Japan followed by Serbia in January 2019.

Depp and Levitas are both represented by CAA.