A. M. Nornes amnornes
Thu Oct 25 16:18:25 EDT 2001

A2 was one of the films that caused some interesting discussion at Yamagata.
As you can tell from the description, it's about Aum and shot from the
"inside." Director Mori has brought various versions of his first film to
Yamagata over the years, and it struck people with its unique perspective
"behind the barricades." He had extraordinary access to the top people in
the organization for both of these films, and the films show it (for this,
he was often interviewed on Japanese tv as one of the experts). In
comparison, you could see the problems with the mass media treatment of the
religion and its believers during a very trying time.

In the new film, A2, things have settled down. One of the most fascinating
parts of it shows how all the townspeople that set up their own surveillance
systems outside of Aum apartments in the hinterlands began forming honest
relationships with the believers. Even friendships. There are great scenes
where they chat and joke about each other's misperceptions. At one point,
some believers help the townspeople dismantle their observation tent.

These are hopeful scenes, but there are others filled with willful ill will.
At the same time, Mori decides to come down on Aum and offer a critical pov
on the religion and its members (citing the rise in youth crime, the
increasing strength of the right wing, and the impending doom of Japanese
civilization...that's what it feels like). This is a big shift from his
stance in the first film, and it is what makes A1 more interesting. Back
then, Mori (in his first attempt at filmmaking, as far as I know) was trying
so hard to stay "objective" and "fair" and not get involved. His first film
was implicitly critical of the media especially, but tried hard not to offer
an opinion on either Aum or the government's treatment and response to the
gas attacks. His struggle to retain this "objective" stance is challenged
constantly, and I think it reveals an inability on the part of the filmmaker
to see the problems---theoretical and otherwise---to strive for objectivity
and perhaps by extension stoop to the level of the mainstream media. In A1,
this comes to a head in a scene where Mori captures police detectives
harrassing Aum leaders and one of them trips and seriously injures an Aum
staff person when his head hits the pavement. The police arrest the injured
man (!) and even though Mori has footage that shows the abuse he initially
refuses to give it to the Aum lawyers on the grounds that that would align
himself with the cult and he would break his vow of objectivity and
"balance." In the end, he breaks down, gives it to them, and the guy is out
of jail within hours. But it took so long for him to do the right thing
because of his struggle with received codes of documentary.

A2 is different. He decides to take a stand, and without that previous
ambiguity the result is not as interesting. Still, considering our current
world it's definitely worth a look. I've proposed showing it on the UM
campus next semester.

Mori says this is it. No more A's. But having gone to 2 how can he stop
without completing 3?!?!?


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