Director Atsushi Sakahara’s Me and the Cult Leader will make its world premiere as part of Sheffield Doc/Festival’s Digital Edition. The documentary will debut as a Ghosts and Apparitions selection. The Festival runs until July 10. Me and the Cult Leader chronicles a doomsday cult’s attack on Tokyo’s subway system. It was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the postwar era. Sakahara was one of the victims. He comes to find he has unlikely company.
On March 20th, 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult executed a coordinated attack on five trains in the Tokyo subway system. The group released a toxic nerve gas on the Tokyo metro during rush-hour. The gas killed 13 people and injured over 6,000, including Sakahara. In his debut film, Me And The Cult Leader, he “embarks on a journey with the cult’s executive, Hiroshi Araki, to record the parallel experiences of a victim and perpetrator,” according to the press statement.
Sakahara and Araki are around the same age, grew up in the same region, and attended the same university. One found a job in downtown Tokyo, the other joined a cult after a family illness. Twenty-five years after the terrorist attack, Me and the Cult Leader searches for restorative justice through earnest conversation.
You can watch the trailer here:
After the attack, investigators searching Aum’s headquarters in Kamikuishiki on the foot of Mount Fuji, police found explosives, a Russian Mil Mi-17 military helicopter, and a stockpile of chemicals that could be used for producing enough sarin to kill four million people.
“I thought, I should face it as a filmmaker and share the work with the rest of the world. Otherwise, I would not be able to feel that I had overcome it,” Sakahara said in a statement.
Sakahara was on his way to work when he got caught in the sarin gas attacks. He had come close to resting his foot on the package before deciding to move onto the next subway car. Sakahara suffered lifelong nervous system damage and post-traumatic stress disorder. After studying at the University of California, he married a woman he learned was a member of the Aum cult. Her name was actually on a sheet of paper found in the pocket of one of the men on death row for his part in the Tokyo Subway attack. Sakahara does not know how involved she ultimately was in the cult. They divorced a year and a half later.
Sakahara produced Bean Cake, directed by David Greenspan, which won the 2001 Short Film Palme d’Or. He hosts the true crime podcast Before After Aum, which focuses on the historical and social context of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo and its leader Shoko Asahara, who was executed in July 2018. Sakahara has been a vocal spokesperson for the attacks and process of recovery. Aum Shinrikyo still operates and recruits today.
Me and the Cult Leader and Before After Aum are produced by Good People Inc.
Me and the Cult Leader – A Modern Report on the Banality of Evil premieres at the U.K.’s digital Sheffield International Documentary Festival, which runs until July 10.