Ahead of the world premiere as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Digital Edition in the Ghosts and Apparitions selection, the documentary Me and the Cult Leader debuted the new trailer. In the film, director Atsushi Sakahara chronicles his intimate journey of confronting the doomsday cult behind the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro system on March 20th, 1995.
On March 20th, 1995 Atsushi Sakahara was one of over 6,000 people injured in the attack on the Tokyo metro by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which still operates and recruits today. In his debut film, the documentary Me and the Cult Leader, Sakahara embarks on a journey with the cult’s executive, Hiroshi Araki, to record the parallel experiences of a victim and perpetrator.
The two men are around the same age, grew up in the same region, and attended the same university, but their lives diverged dramatically in the late 80s as Hiroshi Araki joined the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo following a family illness and Atsushi Sakahara found himself a job in downtown Tokyo. Twenty-five years after the terrorist attack by Aum Shinrikyo on the Tokyo metro system, the two men find themselves on opposite sides of the largest act of domestic terrorism in Japan, trying to understand each other as they travel back to their hometowns. A timely cinematic essay on restorative justice and finding closure after trauma, Me and the Cult Leader presents a perspective rarely considered in this divided world: earnest conversation.
“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 overcame it,” says director Atsushi Sakahara.
After being injured in the attack, Sakahara, who produced the 2001 Short Film Palme d’Or winning Bean Cake, directed by David Greenspan, suffered lifelong damage and post-traumatic stress disorder, and managed his recovery in a number of ways. He is a writer and host of the podcast Before After Aum, which focuses on the historical and social context of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. He currently resides in Kyoto and is working on a collection of stories and new film projects.
Sakahara has been a vocal spokesperson for the attacks and process of recovery. He has spoken at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan and been widely interviewed on his experience by the media in Japan and internationally.