Religion News Report
Archived News items about religious cults, sects, and alternative religions
A behind-the-scenes look at Aum
Daily Yomiuri (Japan), Sep. 27, 2001
"You start to doubt your own beliefs, so it's really difficult," a protester says as he prepares to leave premises bordering one of Aum Supreme Truth cult's living quarters in Gunma Prefecture in 1999.
To many, what he's talking about is unthinkable--friendship between Aum members and community groups that set up around-the-clock protests against the cult in their cities and towns. At first, the protesters share the same feeling as the rest of the nation's population: Aum equals evil, and evil should be eradicated. But after interacting with Aum members on a daily basis, those who once harbored animosity toward their unwanted neighbors at times find themselves torn between the image presented in media reports supporting an end to the group's activities and the people with whom they take commemorative photos before they leave the premises.
Documentary filmmaker Tatsuya Mori is perhaps the only member of the Japanese media who's had the courage to really examine one of the most contentious issues in modern Japanese society. In A2, this year's Japanese entry in the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, he extends his cooperation with Aum members that led to 1998's A, a groundbreaking account of the daily life of Aum members and the process Mori had to endure to make the film--which included losing funding from a television production company due to the film's controversial nature.
Mori continues his provocative, behind-the-scenes look at the life of Aum members, including Hiroshi Araki, the cult's soft-spoken, boyish deputy spokesman featured in A. A2 forgoes narration in favor of offering an objective account of the role that the cult members' beliefs play in their daily lives: prayer sessions that last into the small hours of the morning, rituals that see them drink pots of salt water and purge themselves immediately afterward, m a l t "It has to do with energy," one member explains.
It would be easy to dismiss A2 as being sympathetic to Aum, but the film avoids portraying members as victims. Rather, it shows their resilience in the face of the intense criticism and scrutiny that has become a regular part of their lives. When a group of about 30 people protest outside their living quarters one afternoon, the cult members are surprised at the small turnout and wonder whether there'll be more to come.
Although Mori demonstrates his intimacy with his subjects by placing himself in front of the camera, he never questions their beliefs. This is what makes the film so difficult to watch because the mass media have gone to great pains to dictate the way we think and feel about Aum. And when Mori shows us how selective the media have been in shaping our view of the cult and allows us to make our own decisions about the cult, the moral burden is almost too much to bear.
A2 will be screened during the 2001 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, which runs Oct. 3-9 at the Yamagata Central Public Hall, Yamagata Citizens' Hall and other locations throughout the city.
Cult defenders, including Massimo Introvigne, J. Gordon Melton and other cult defenders make mistakes similar to those of Tatsuya Mori, in that they fail to put the outwardly friendly nature of members of destructive cults in proper perspective. Some Aum Shinrikyo followers have proven themselves to be capable of committing terrorist acts under the guidance of the guru they worship.
» Latest Religion and Cult News
Religion News Blog
Religion News Blog (RNB) carries the latest news about cults, religious sects, world religions, televangelists, and related issues.