Thursday, February 08, 2007

A (Tatsuya Mori, 1998)

A (Tatsuya Mori, 1998)
Rating: 8.1

Mori Tatsuya’s documentary film A (1999) attempts to convey a fairly objective portrayal of a handful of members belonging to the Aum Shinrikyo sect. Most of the focus is directed on the Public Relations Department Chief, Mr. Araki. The religion itself is really more of a secondary issue in the film, whereas the filmmaker’s real intentions are to illustrate how these members are sincere human beings. The technical style develops this personal connection with Mr. Araki and the others from the start by using mostly handheld tight closeup shots and at times we even feel like voyeurs violating their privacy. In one scene in particular Tatsuya follows Araki into a room where he is praying and obviously emotional distraught. There are also a lot of moments when the filmmaker keeps the camera focused on the group member’s faces for longer than extended durations allowing their facial expressions to reveal emotional reactions to questions.
Montages of their living spaces are shown throughout. During these montages we see the filthy conditions in which they were living in as well the Aum propaganda. These montages included a lot of skewed and canted angled shots that seemed to coincide with the disorganization of the group itself during these troubled times as well as their messy housing. The propaganda and posters of Asahara loom in the backgrounds of shots throughout the film as well perhaps insinuating that these members of Aum are victims of control by fear and manipulation.
The Japanese society demonizes the group members and the media antagonizes them. Several scenes show the media’s deceptive attempts at getting footage of the group. I can recall numerous shots of crowds of cameras and reporters waiting outside the groups quarters. The media is usually shown to us from a distance. In one instance the camera films them from an upstairs window of the Aum facilities, and in another we see a powerful diagnol shot reminiscent of Eisenstein, in which a mass of cameras are pointed like guns and fill much of the composition of the frame. In another voyeuristic scene we witness police badgering the Aum members which eventually escalates into an arrest. The camera is right in the middle of this incident and implies how unjustly Aum is being treated for their leaders misdeeds. Also during this scene, we hear nondiegetic music for the first time in the film
By showing the media as conniving vultures looking to exploit the Aum members and make them look foolish, the filmmaker in turn portrays himself as more of a trustworthy philanthropist. He includes a series of scenes where we learn he shares the video of the police confrontation with the court in order to preserve the human rights of the arrested member. Mori Tatsuya gives the Aum members a forum in which they can express their feelings and have a chance to be understood without having their words misconstrued by a bias media. His intent however is not to glorify or even support the religion. Instead he tries to show us the naive, confused, and perhaps misguided members trying to live an honest life while dealing with the scrutiny of a conformist society that is unaccepting of their differences

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