Monday, August 29, 2011

Entry Wounds : A (1998) - Review

Call it something of a morbid fascination, or just an overture toward greater understanding. But a large part of my own personal love and interest in Japanese film, has been in regards toward better grasping the more hidden, cultural context lying beneath the actions inherent. No amount of mythical monsters could compare to the simmering, often troubling undercurrents often exhibited in sometimes the most fantastic of scenarios. But when a documentary not only sheds a sobering light on one of the most infamous chapters in recent Japanese history, but also provokes a watershed of even more distressing questions, word must be made about it, even on the pages of an innocuous pop culture blog such as this.

And in light of my recent re-take on the fictitious, yet more artificially brutal Kichiku Dai Enkai, it is far more important to give Tatsuya Mori's shot-on-video revelation, A (1998), some well-intentioned words.

In the months after the Kasumigaseki sarin gas attacks that terrified the nation, testimonials of multiple members of the notorious religious order, Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) are being heard in court, and are being broadcast all over the world. And as the bizarre drama involving this shockingly influential group (Even having scientists, and foreigners from US & even Russia among their ranks) continues to unfold, a large number of members-including PR spokesperson, Hiroshi Araki, remain virtually holed up in the group's main HQ in Kameido. Surviving on strictly protein-based diets, near-disheveled living conditions, and surrounded by images and even music featuring the group's now in-custody leader, Shoko Asahara, Araki and his fellow members attempt to stave off the growing hordes of media amassing outside, clamoring for a chance to allow the group to speak for themselves as more and more allegations of the group's activities that stemmed far beyond the gas attacks that killed 12, and led to nearly 4000 injuries. And yet, no news services were remotely able to get a closer look at the lives, and perspectives of the sect than Mori, who through sheer force of will, and a truly objective eye, offers a quietly chilling two-hours plus peek into one of the modern world's first looks at Japan's long festering gap in its post-war societal armor.

Mori's presence throughout the film is virtually invisible, as he and his crew merely settle themselves well into the lives of the Kameido members, and spend a great amount of time alongside Araki, who at the offset comes off as a bit of a country bumpkin with a sincere belief in his people, who's religion functions as something of a hybrid of several eastern belief systems, albeit with a something of an apocalyptic bent. As something of a post-human philosophy, Araki with several of his closest cohorts continue to speak praises of their lifestyle, and moreso regarding The Master (Asahara) whom we never see aside from photos often plastered all over the HQ walls. It is his presence felt throughout the film that is one of the A's most unnerving triumphs. About the only time that Mori finds  himself on camera is when he is by chance forced into a filmmaker's moral quandary after witnessing  Araki and associate being harrassed by local police, ending in a potentially faked injury on the part of one of the officers, and even Araki's associate who was knocked to the concrete. Mori's video lends the film an unexpected punch when he is put on the spot to make a moral decision despite his initial wishes to remain a fly on the wall. His ultimate actions regarding this are not only understandable from a human perspective, but indicative that what we are witnessing is far beyond anything the news media could have ever gained from dealing with the Aum.

The fact that the film spans roughly two years with Mori and company witnessing events from the inside, offers us far more than the sensationalistic, which one can easily assume regarding the subject matter. Even as Mori continues to question the choices Araki and followers are making regarding their support for the sect, even as the walls seem to be tumbling down around them, he never seems to be going for the easy, shallow response. In many ways, his questions often take on a humanistic approach. It is only when members begin to make statements that beg rational questions, does Mori take a more personal stance, which in turn gathers some of the film's meatiest material. Even as some of the doc tends to drag in places, it is these sudden bursts of rationality that bring to light the reasons for many of the members being where they are, not only in the group, but in their lives. Bringing to light something that is easily A's biggest stealth bomb. Even as locals attempt to encourage Araki to reintegrate into the society he, and the others have vowed to shun, it reveals a greater unseen disconnect occurring under the nation's often peaceful veneer. Conversely, we are also witness to Araki's reception to all that is occurring around him from derision to sympathy, leading to something of a complete personal arc by the film's end. And again, it is with Mori's decision to never allow his film to prosthelytize any moral standing that it all builds to a potent finale that while complete in its own right, led to a much larger scale exploration of the Japanese social strata via A2 several years later.

Bringing this all back to my own interests in the more fantastic corners of Japanese show, shining a light upon early recession-era ennui, and post-traditional malaise which has continued to erupt in numerous social issues from the proliferation of NEETs, the growing elderly population, and an overall increasing sense of resignation. Despite all the things I love about Japan, I find that in the worst of times, great and telling arts are borne from the most unexpected places. And even as the Japanese mainstream claws on toward the general blandification of culture, there are often bursts of primal creation that come from such trying feelings. But there are times when allegory & merely entertaining the notions isn't enough, and A is a great example of tackling these concerns head-on, even if noone realized the sheer temerity of the Aum events as they were unfolding. Sometimes all one requires is to be there in the room with the storm in full effect. And few films are as immediate in retrospect as A..

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