AUM: The Cult at the End of the World Review: Seductive Doc Examines Pivot from Yoga to Terrorism

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AUM: The Cult at the End of the World Review: Seductive Doc Examines Pivot from Yoga to Terrorism


Calling cults “funny” isn’t appropriate — cults are soul-sucking, exploitative corporations that ruin people’s lives — but if you’re interested in learning about human behavior, especially its extremes, There’s no denying that cults are fascinating. Not only because they allow people to do, say, or believe bizarre things as a result of cult mind control, but also because they lead people to join cults in the first place. It’s because of the social situation.

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World is directed by newcomers Ben Brown and Chiaki Yanagimoto, and doesn’t shy away from subject brutality. In fact, it starts with their most infamous. But where lesser-skilled filmmakers might have relied on shocking values ​​or wholly insipid moralization, the team behind “AUM” has turned one cult into its dazzling. Struggling to make sense of it in all its frightening complexity.

“AUM” opens with the infamous sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, but the documentary actually begins in the 1980s. Japan’s economy is booming, and journalist Andrew Marshall has just moved to Tokyo. He describes the city as “futuristic” and “backward” at the same time. This is a “Blade Runner” kind of place where you can easily blow out the electricity in your apartment by plugging in multiple items.

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The simultaneous existence of prosperity and vulnerability was also a characteristic of the Japanese people. Adrift in consumer culture, they sought something deeper, and many gravitated toward the transcendental. Shoko Asahara, a charismatic yogi who was published in an occult magazine and claimed to have gained psychic powers through meditation, began growing her following. In 1987, it became Aum Shinrikyo. By 1995, the cult was found responsible for murder, chemical weapons and terrorism.

Through archival footage and interviews, “AUM” sheds light on how such organizations developed and thrived despite skepticism and protests from lawyers, journalists, and loved ones of their members. The film is based on The Cult of the End of the World, co-authored by Marshall with David E. Kaplan: From the Tokyo Subway to the Russian Nuclear Arsenal, The Horrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult. Appeared in the movie. (Marshall and Kaplan are also credited as producers.

While the filmmakers interview victims of the cult, they also rely heavily on Fumihiro Joyu, a senior member of Aum Shinrikyo. the current iteration today. This is a boon, not a betrayal, and Joyu talks about what drew him to the organization and what role he ultimately played.

He says he joined Aum Shinrikyo because he didn’t want to be dragged into it, even though he was educated in space technology. galactic war(You have to see the movie to understand how ironic that claim is.)

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Despite Joyu’s useful contextualization, the film does little glorification of him: hearing Marshall say it is the only reason Joyu wasn’t put to death like his other colleagues. because he oversaw during the cult’s most heinous attacks on the Japanese public. Its Russian membership. In perhaps the film’s worst moment, Eiko Nagaoka, whose husband was nearly killed for leading the Aum Victim Support Organization, said of Joyu, “As long as he lives, he can’t die.” .

“Aum” delves into Asahara’s upbringing, psychology, and fascination before detailing the cult’s penchant for sarin gas attacks and the burial of deniers. It’s particularly instructive and shows why a film about a cult that broke up nearly 30 years ago is still relevant today. Asahara’s charisma, cultural literacy, and quirkiness made him seem deceptively unthreatening, even to those who should have known better.

Before Aum Shinrikyo hired spies for the media and police, journalists portrayed him as a harmless eccentric. Grave inhumanity is literally hard to associate with a good looking guy in a fuchsia robe. make yourself an anime character and made his followers dance Papier-mâché imitation of his head.

But, as Marshall warns in the documentary’s somewhat outlandish finale, this was Asahara’s biggest trick. He asks what similar blind spots we have now, including, for example, the cult nature of American and British politics.

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By the time the documentary gets there, you probably already have an idea. (The 1980s Donald Trump appears even early in the film.) You don’t need to hold the viewer’s hand if it’s obvious.

Still, on the journey, “AUM” strikes a confident balance between perspective and tone. The movie zips along and its 106-minute runtime is well spent. Ultimately it’s a chronology, but editor Keita Deno (Kusama: Infinity) provides just enough information to finish the unsolved mystery. Still, “AUM” is neither exploitive nor maudlin. This is a sophisticated, candid account of a tragic event, told with empathy and relative objectivity. If he’s looking for a prelude to one of the strangest and most complicated chapters in human history, look no further.

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World will have its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

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