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In 1996, filmmaker Tatsuya Mori received permission to tape the inside activities of Japan's religious cult Aum Shinrikyothe enigmatic group that released sarin gas into Tokyo's subway system in 1995. Focusing on the group's spokesperson Araki Hiroshi, Mori caught much more than the cult's daily life with his camera. He captured the media frenzy that engulfed the group, the vicious tactics of undercover cops against cult members, and the anger of local residents who wanted to evict the cult from their community. Looking for more than a simple depiction of this controversial group, Mori exposes and examines the contradictions in Japanese society that would produce such a cult and then feed on it. This edgy, provocative documentary created a heated debate in Japan, where the cult still resides under a different name.
Before 9/11, before the 2004 Madrid train attacks and the '05 London Underground bombings, there was March 20, 1995, when members of a Japanese cult calling itself Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system, killing a dozen people and injuring hundreds more. A year later, filmmaker Tatsuya Mori began work on A, his study of the cult and its adherents. The result is not what one might expect. For one thing, Aum leader Shoko Asahara was already in custody, so while there are constant references to "the Master" and his teachings, he's never actually seen. You can also disregard the cover hype, which breathlessly describes the film as "a shocking profile of the demonic cult that held an entire nation in terror!" There's no denying the horror of the subway incidents, but the Aum members we meet are not demons; they are mostly timid, idealistic folks whose desire to escape the evils and earthly distractions of day to day society transcends their worship of Asahara, whom they realize will not be coming back (in fact, we witness a "leadership transfer" from the blind guru to two of his sons). Nor do they speak much about the sarin attack. For the most part, they spend their time trying to ward off bankruptcy, as well as the police (one of whom feigns injury in an attempt to put a member in jail), the angry, suspicious locals, and the relentless intrusions of the media. Much of this is left up to Aum spokesman Hiroshi Araki, a decent young man who's a little out of his depth but skilled in the art of Japanese negotiation, where "yes" and "maybe" are usually tantamount to "no." Mori shot his documentary in cinema verite style--it's just him and a single hand-held camera--and while he's adept at asking provocative questions, A is quite long (136 minutes) and often uneventful. Still, Mori's access to Aum (now known as Aleph) was unlimited, which makes for some fascinating moments. Here's hoping for further insights from his sequel, A2. --Sam Graham
- Facets Cine-Notes collectible booklet
- Original Japanese trailers for A and A2
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I was expecting an explanation of the attack, but the people filmed do not appear to have been involved in it. It does give an interesting insight into Japanese life. The people who give the young man advice tell him to get a job and work hard. The police operate differently and that's pretty interesting.
I have to admit, I watched it in fast forward through lots of it because there are long stretches where nothing happens. I would've fallen asleep if I hadn't.
I'd like to see what the spokesman is doing now(10 years later), and I'd like to see police and psychologist interviews and I'd like it to be shorter. I guess I'm an average impatient dude.