In this paper, I will examine how Japanese documentary filmmaker Tsuchimoto Noriaki (1928–2008) tackled the issue of visual ethics through the representation of Matsunaga Kumiko and Kamimura Tomoko—two young female patients known for the symbolic roles they each played in the history of Minamata disease. I will introduce the ethical challenge Tsuchimoto encountered upon his first visit to Minamata in 1965—especially how he grappled with the question of filming subjects (shutai
) who were unconscious and/or unable to express whether they approved the act of filming or not—and how such conundrums were reflected into his representation of Kumiko in her hospital bed. For the analysis of the representation of Tomoko as seen in Tsuchimoto’s documentary, I will bring in W. Eugene Smith’s photograph “Tomoko and Mother in the Bath” as a point of comparison to explore what could be an ethical representation of Minamata disease patients, including the issue of photographs that seem to beautify the tragedy. Based on the above examinations, I will argue that the challenges Tsuchimoto faced upon representing unresponsive subjects and the very struggle to find a way to capture them as humans, not as patients or victims, altered his manner of artistic and political involvement with Minamata disease. And in the current post-Fukushima era, the issue of ethical representation that he kept exploring carries even more significance upon representing disasters.
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