Doc Solely Skims Floor

A typically compelling story with apparent modern and world resonances will get an sadly dry and surface-level retelling in Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto’s Aum: The Cult on the Finish of the World, premiering on the Sundance Movie Competition.

The Cult on the Finish of the World nonetheless affords fascinating particulars, particularly at a second when each different tv documentary or docuseries appears to be cult-focused. However, particularly in its homestretch, I felt just like the movie was awash in rapidly defended conclusions and unhealthy decisions involving a minimum of one key interview topic.

Aum: The Cult on the Finish of the World

The Backside Line

Frustratingly restricted.

Venue: Sundance Movie Competition (U.S. Documentary Competitors)
Administrators: Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto

1 hour 46 minutes

The movie begins, in medias res, with the March 20, 1995 sarin assault on the Tokyo subway, a horrifying occasion that left 13 individuals useless, hundreds poisoned and — for those who take heed to a number of interview topics and don’t require corroborating evaluation — marked the conclusion of the Japanese financial resurgence of the Eighties and Nineties.

The assault was the ultimate escalation for Aum Shinrikyo, which began as a guru-driven yoga follow constructed round Shoko Asahara, turned an internationally expansive non secular and political group, after which remodeled right into a doomsday cult that violently focused any opposition.

This all performed out within the public eye, with Aum Shinrikyo producing commercials and promotional anime, with Asahara showing on a number of the nation’s greatest speak reveals, with a common visibility that offers Braun and Yanagimoto ample documentation.

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Utilizing the e book of the identical title by David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall as supply materials, and counting on Kaplan and Marshall for ample exposition, the documentary takes a considerably jumbled strategy to Aum Shinrikyo’s historical past and the way it aligned with Japan’s historical past of governmental interactions with non secular teams. The purpose that’s well-made is that Aum Shinrikyo was working in plain sight and that any stage of concern and even skepticism from legislation enforcement entities in all probability might have saved many lives. However for the reason that documentary’s sourcing tied to Japanese legislation enforcement or something bureaucratic is non-existent, even the proof for one thing this apparent is unconvincing. When a number of individuals on the finish of the documentary shift the blame to these forces, my solely response was, “Which may be true, nevertheless it isn’t actually the story you had been in a position to inform.”

Elsewhere, the documentary’s sourcing, apart from Kaplan, Marshall and Japanese journalist Shoko Egawa, is first rate however erratically utilized. There are individuals with shut ties to Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-cult lawyer whose disappearance was blamed on Aum, in addition to a number of of the relations who initially mobilized with Sakamoto in opposition to Asahara and confronted their very own assassination makes an attempt. There’s an interview with Yoshiyuki Kouno, the harmless civilian who was blamed for a pre-subway sarin assault as a part of a shoddy investigation that comes closest to proving the documentary’s level about institutional failures.

However then there are massive gaps. The depiction of the subway assault itself, nonetheless loads harrowing because of dispatch recordings and surveillance and information filming, is hampered by a complete lack of first-person accounts from that day. The way in which that Aum Shinrikyo was in a position to increase to Russia — supply of the cult’s munitions and presumably the sarin itself — after the autumn of the Soviet Union is perhaps essentially the most fascinating and least illuminated facet of your complete documentary. The sourcing inside Aum itself is frustratingly weak as properly, with one or two cult members who seem early to offer fundamental data after which vanish.

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The documentary’s greatest “get” can also be its greatest drawback. Fumihiro Joyu was one among Asahara’s chief lieutenants and, within the aftermath of the assault, served as one thing of an Aum spokesman. He describes himself as one of the crucial hated males in Japan, nevertheless it’s astonishing how mild the filmmakers appear to be to him and, consequently, how utterly devoid of candor or introspection he seems to be. He doesn’t even should be in denial or deluded about his position within the varied tragedies as a result of there’s no indication that he’s been requested about his position in any of them. I’d level to how the administrators of HBO’s current Iran hostage disaster docuseries handled their interviews with members of the hostage-taking pupil group for a much better instance of the right way to a minimum of get circumspect honesty from individuals who don’t see themselves as villains. Given how little substance Joyu offers right here, the administrators would have been higher off simply not bothering.

The grand summations on the finish don’t actually work both. You don’t have to observe a lot media protection of Aum Shinrikyo and Asahara to know how a cult of persona round a charismatic chief whom the media handled as a curiosity gone the purpose at which he had grow to be harmful — at which era he tried to delegitimatize the media and try a governmental takeover — would possibly evoke comparisons to QAnon, January 6 and the like. The way in which that connection is made right here comes all the way down to Marshall’s lone mealy-mouthed comparability to “how polarized politics is within the U.S. and within the U.Okay.” Should you’re not going to really make the purpose, don’t trouble with the lip service.

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The rise of Aum Shinrikyo and of Asahara, whose biographical particulars are offered by Joyu with a complicated lack of consistency, is nightmarish stuff and it’s a globally related cautionary story. It in all probability deserves a greater recounting than Aum: The Cult on the Finish of the World.



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