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Minamata mercury tragedy gets Hollywood treatment

New film gives flawed view of the American photojournalist who exposed poisoning scandal

In "Minamata," Johnny Depp, right, stars as American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, who documented the deadly effects of industrial mercury pollution in Minamata, Japan. (Vertigo Releasing/screen grab from YouTube) 

TOKYO -- Hollywood has a Japan problem. Even when a film is nominally "about" Japan, such as "The Last Samurai" (2003), the drama is in the character development of the main -- inevitably Western -- protagonist. Thanks to his Japan experiences, the drunken American mercenary, played by Tom Cruise, recovers his self-respect -- and gives Emperor Meiji some sound advice on how he should rule the country.

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