Aum: The Cult at the End of the World tells the story behind the widely reported 11 Tokyo subway attack The little-told story of the largest act of domestic terrorism in Japanese history, the release of sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system during rush hour, killing 11 people.
Chiaki Yanagimoto and Ben Braun direct Aum, an in-depth look at Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult behind the attack, by self-proclaimed yogis Shoko Asahara founded the reincarnation of Buddha. Based on the cult book by investigative journalist David E. Kaplan and Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Marshall, this documentary tells the story of Fumihiro Joyu through the testimony of characters , a former member of Aum Shinrikyo, shirked responsibility for the attack, while Marshall, a British journalist living in Japan, sounded the cult’s alarm bells early on.
Braun – the son and nephew of Dan and Josh Braun, founders of the document production and sales company Submarine – has been working with documents for years, but Aum marks his directorial debut. Yanagimoto and Braun talk about THR about Aum.
Prior to doing the buzz, what is your personal understanding of the Tokyo subway attack?
CHIAKI YANAGIMOTO I was in middle school. I grew up in a place in Yamanashi, rural Japan, at the age of 11 when it happened, and I didn’t really know the group until then. When the attack happened, it was huge news and we soon realized that this group was behind the crime. Then I personally found out that their biggest headquarters is in Yamanashi. I remember all the parents telling their kids to beware of those white robed men roaming the mountains.
BEN BRAUN I had a similar experience growing up in NYC where my elementary school was next to the WTC . I was there with my mom that morning, going through something very traumatic, and getting very close to it. I think this motivated me to research similar events. When you read about this particular incident, you know a lot about what happened, but it seems difficult to get to the bottom of what exactly caused it. And what leads to 9/11 is very, very overanalyzed and well understood. I had wanted to get into directing and felt like it was something that I knew from my own life how to live with a lot of trauma and deal with it, and I could relate to it in some way.
What does this documentary offer that the news media or other coverage of the event has not?
BRAUN When you look at the broader story though I am A lot is known about this thing, but when we started looking into it, there was much more that led to it. I think we feel like this hasn’t been told. When you look at the film’s coverage of various events, it’s almost like an archaeological dig. Only a fraction of the stories are told in a book, some are told in another made documentary, and some are told in the news. It feels like you just need to have everything in one place. Like it needs to be put back together so it can be told in an understandable way. So you can see the cumulative effect of everything that happens.
The archival material featured in the film is extensive. Much of the footage shown appeared to be happening at the same time, seemingly from within the cult itself. how did you find it
BRAUN This is amazing. There were a lot of challenges with the film, and from the very beginning when we started working on it, we would see clips on YouTube that were just in the ether. [We would ask], “Whose footage is this?”
YANAGIMOTO We’re not talking news footage, We’re talking about footage that was clearly shot within the group.
BRAUN We were like, “Who owns it all?” In this book, we chose to be it As reference points for the stories mentioned in the index, Aum photographed many of their own activities. We thought we’d find it, but we basically couldn’t. What ended up happening was after we met Joyu for the first time, we brought it up and he said, “Somebody has to have them. Maybe I have some lying around and I’ll take a look.”
YANAGIMOTO I went back in February to do research and a couple before my flight to LA A few days, Ben reminded Joyu that he might have some tapes, why don’t we just call him and ask again. Joyu said, “‘”If you go to this office in Nagano, I think you’ll find something. So on the day of my flight back to Los Angeles, I bought an empty suitcase in Tokyo, took the Shinkansen train to Nagano, and went to this office, which had videotapes and VHS tapes, books and cassettes. I packed everything I could into that suitcase and went straight from there to the airport and back to LA
BRAUN Chiaki took the bullet train and it was last second and we were trying to find someone to go with her. It was 2020 Oscar night when Parasite won Best Picture and I was at [Parasite Dealer] Neon’s awards show, then went into the bathroom and watched an hour FaceTime video with her while she went to the place to find these tapes, so I could call in case something weird happened.
Cults are a very popular subject for documentaries. How did you differentiate the narrative in Aum?
BRAUN Submarine in Wild, Wild Country work on; we’ve worked on a lot of cult things and they’re all similar. The difference is that this is a disaster movie. Of course, you need to dig into their ideology and what they want to do, but it revolves around this big event, and secondly it revolves around a western journalist who comes to Japan and hears about a strange phenomenon happening in the hinterland. At that point, it starts to feel like Godzilla. It’s a story about his monster lurking in the countryside.
YANAGIMOTO Our stance on this movie is more of a narrative movie than saying, “‘ “Let’s make a cult documentary. ” I personally didn’t realize what other cult documentaries did or didn’t do because I thought the story was very character driven. All our references are not other cult documents. Our references are Godzilla or Godfather.
What do you want the Sundance audience to Have you seen the documentary?
YANAGIMOTO I am really curious how the Japanese Watch this movie. The stories we tell in the movie, for a lot of Japanese people, they don’t really know, or they purposely look away. I want Japanese people to really see our own history and what really happened .Really look at it not as a shame but as something that has happened and something we can learn from.
BRAUN I hope Americans can learn something about their background today by watching this video. When you’re going through the story of a megalomaniac, he’s a very popular and beloved character , he has a huge following, he came out of the woods and basically launched an attack on the Capitol. I’m sure that will register for people. When someone says, “The end of the world is coming, I’m going to destroy the world. ’ or, ‘I’m not leaving. ” We need to listen to what people are saying because sometimes it’s not so mysterious what the intent is.