Johnny Depp Drama ‘Minamata’ Acquired By MGM; February 5 Release Set Through American International Pictures Label For Japan-Set Mercury Poisoning Scandal

"Minamata" Larry Horricks

EXCLUSIVE: MGM has acquired the Johnny Depp-starrer Minamata, through its American International Pictures label. The Andrew Levitas-directed drama has been set for a February 5 release, dropping into the extended awards season as a theatrical and day and date PVOD release. The film made its world premiere during the Berlin International Film Festival last February. In addition to U.S. rights, MGM acquired Canada, Germany and Switzerland.

While the recent focus on Depp has come for all the wrong reasons in a libel case he pressed against the Rupert Murdoch British tabloid The Sun for calling him a “wife beater” (a court ruling is expected Monday), this is a chance for the focus to swing back to his chameleonic screen work.

In a drama inspired by a true story, Depp plays Eugene Smith, a famed photojournalist who has disconnected from the world but takes a final assignment from his Life Magazine editor (Bill Nighy). He travels to the Japanese coastal city of Minamata, where locals have been ravaged by mercury poisoning from chemicals dumped into the waters by a factory. He’s accompanied by a Japanese translator (Minami) and encouraged by a local villager (Hiroyuki Sanada) as he helps expose decades of gross negligence by the Chisso Corporation. Minamata also stars Jun Kunimura, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano and Akiko Iwase.

Levitas directed the film from a screenplay by Levitas, David K. Kessler, Stephen Deuters, and Jason Forman.

MGM earlier this month announced it would relaunch AIP, the former B-movie factor hatched in the ‘50s by Samuel Arkoff. Minamata is produced by Levitas for Metalwork Pictures and Depp for Infinitum Nihil, along with Sam Sarkar, Bill Johnson, Gabrielle Tana, Kevan Van Thompson, David K Kessler, and Zach Avery. Executive Producers are Jason Forman, Stephen Deuters, Peter Touche, Stephen Spence, Peter Watson, Marie-Gabrielle Stewart, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Nobu Hasegawa and Joe Hasegawa.

Levitas said he was “humbled and pleased that wonderful distributors like MGM, NGOs, and institutions, around the world have joined us in our effort to bring light and voice to the people of Minamata and all of those who are forgotten, oppressed, and left voiceless. This uplifting story of hope, passion, and community reminds us that alone we may be the parts per million, but together we are the millions.”

Chris Ottinger, President of World Wide Television Distribution & Acquisitions at MGM said that “It’s an incredibly dynamic moment in the acquisition space right now, which has allowed us the freedom to explore new opportunities within the premium content world. We are thrilled to be releasing Andrew’s film via this newly relaunched label.”

HanWay’s Gabrielle Stewart, CAA Media Finance and MGM’s Sam Wollman, EVP of Worldwide Acquisitions & Film Sales.

A clip for the film when it debuted in Berlin:

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