Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: Me and the Cult Leader

On 20 March 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo, a doomsday cult, orchestrated five coordinated attacks on the Tokyo Metro. During rush hour they released Sarin gas on three different lines, killing twelve and severely injuring many more. The perpetrators, including the leader Shoko Asahara, were executed, but the group is still operational; albeit under a different name – Aleph. It remains the deadliest terrorist attack on Japanese soil.

Atsushi Sakahara was a victim of the attack and still caries the emotional and physical scars. In his new documentary, Me and the Cult Leader, he travels across Japan with Hiroshi Araki, an executive of Aleph. The men have much in common. They studied at the same university, they’re roughly the same age and both grew up in similar hometowns. As their journey progresses through, an uneasy bond of friendship starts to build between the two men.

Me and the Cult Leader is a considered and thoughtful documentary which tackles a highly emotional and volatile subject through quiet and measured conversations. Indeed, once you get used to the format, Sakahara’s film is surprisingly captivating. As he tries to elicit an apology from Araki through reasoned argument, the two men slowly move towards a consensus. It’s a wonderfully empathetic film and an act of therapy for both.

Me and the Cult Leader is streaming as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest.

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