Sunday, 30 May 2010


The Aum Shinrikyo group, now known as Aleph, are a cult religion in Japan whose central tenets combine elements of Christianity and Buddhism. In 1995, the group was reviled for a sarin attack they carried out on a Tokyo underground train, which killed at least twelve people. The attack was supposedly arranged by the cult’s leader Shoko Asahara in response to rumours that the police had planned to raid his headquarters. In his documentary A, investigative filmmaker Tatsuya Mori managed to integrate himself into the cult’s headquarters shortly after the attack, spending time with members to understand them as people. Spokesperson Hiroshi Araki cuts a bashful image, and one wonders how, if at all, he was selected as a representative given his relative ignorance to the origin of the attacks.

The film plays out as a sort of press pack, arranging interviews and news items chronologically to measure the repercussions of the attack. Rather than sensationalising events unnecessarily, Mori remains as neutral as possible, an approach which allows the subjects to loosen up and contently discuss their beliefs. For the first half of the film, it is hard to conceive of the dangers of a cult represented in the media by someone like Araki, but as Mori probes deeper, he unexpectedly uncovers a stash of chemicals in a storeroom, instantly changing the audience’s perception of the film. At 133 minutes, it may be a little longer than necessary, but A is otherwise a respectably unobtrusive profile of a terrifying sect.

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