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Directed by Atsushi Sakahara

* Limited tickets available.

Official Selection, 2020 Sheffield Doc/Fest

ME AND THE CULT LEADER is a portrait of the unlikeliest of camaraderies, two souls coexisting for a day or two on film. What brings them together is one of the deadliest terror attacks in Japan’s history: the 1995 sarin attack on five subway trains in Tokyo that killed 13 people and injured over 6,000 in a matter of minutes. Atsushi Sakahara is a victim. By his side is Hiroshi Araki, leader of Aum, the still-active cult responsible for the attack.

A survivor with permanent damage, writer Sakahara has spent his life chronicling the incident. In ME AND THE CULT LEADER, they meet 25 years later, as Sakahara convinces Araki to travel with him to their shared hometown. With the disarming charm of Michael Moore and the asceticism of Spock, these almost-friends debate religion, unspool Araki’s traumas, and even poke fun at bad Aum recruitment slogans. Their sincerity warms at an unhurried pace, then suddenly mutes when Sakahara gently mentions the elephant in the room: “Do you see me? Do you feel sorry?” 

Sakahara’s brotherly questions shape the hope of the film–coaxing Araki toward atonement. Yet in two electric moments–a tense meal with Sakahara’s parents and a visit to a Tokyo subway station amidst a media frenzy–Araki’s blankness never fills in. Instead, Araki’s persistent emptiness shifts from thoughtful to ultimately maddening. Stripped of sensationalism and structured like a pilgrimage, Sakahara’s quest for understanding instead becomes a close encounter with the fog of renunciation itself.

Christina Ree