A

An intimate examination of the enigmatic Aum Shinrikyo religious group begun six months after it made world headlines in 1995 by releasing sarin gas in several crowded Tokyo subway stations, "A" is a sporadically fascinating yet ultimately frustrating item that ends up saying more about contempo Japanese society than the followers themselves. Pic's length dooms it to cult interest: Only fests and webs will go for this unique but tedious doc.

An intimate examination of the enigmatic Aum Shinrikyo religious group begun six months after it made world headlines in 1995 by releasing sarin gas in several crowded Tokyo subway stations, “A” is a sporadically fascinating yet ultimately frustrating item that ends up saying more about contempo Japanese society than the followers themselves. Pic’s length dooms it to cult interest: Only fests and webs will go for this unique but tedious doc.

Actor-turned-TV-director Mori Tatsua asked for and received permission from Aum Shinrikyo’s deputy spokesman, Araki Hiroshi, to leapfrog the howling pack of journalists that dogged his every move and film the cult from the inside. As the mild-mannered official grapples with notoriety and police pressure, the restless , probing camera tries in vain to reveal a smoking gun within the sect but finds only what look to be typical Japanese going about their admittedly bizarre business. Print caught, billed as the “international edition,” is an OK video transfer to 16mm; title refers to eight words from the Aum tale that begin with the first letter of the alphabet.

A

(DOCU -- JAPANESE-- 16mm)

Production: An "A" Production Committee production. International sales: Gold View Co., Tokyo.) Produced by Yasuoka Takaharu. Directed by Mori Tatsua. Camera (color, 16mm)/sound/editors, Mori, Yasuoka Takaharu. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 11, 1999. Japanese dialogue. Running time: 136 MIN.

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