Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
"You start to doubt your own beliefs, so it's really difficult," a protester says as he prepares to leave premises bordering one of Aum Supreme Truth cult's living quarters in Gunma Prefecture in 1999.
To many, what he's talking about is unthinkable--friendship between Aum members and community groups that set up around-the-clock protests against the cult in their cities and towns. At first, the protesters share the same feeling as the rest of the nation's population: Aum equals evil, and evil should be eradicated. But after interacting with Aum members on a daily basis, those who once harbored animosity toward their unwanted neighbors at times find themselves torn between the image presented in media reports supporting an end to the group's activities and the people with whom they take commemorative photos before they leave the premises.
Documentary filmmaker Tatsuya Mori is perhaps the only member of the Japanese media who's had the courage to really examine one of the most contentious issues in modern Japanese society. In A2, this year's Japanese entry in the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, he extends his cooperation with Aum members that led to 1998's A, a groundbreaking account of the daily life of Aum members and the process Mori had to endure to make the film--which included losing funding from a television production company due to the film's controversial nature.
Mori continues his provocative, behind-the-scenes look at the life of Aum members, including Hiroshi Araki, the cult's soft-spoken, boyish deputy spokesman featured in A. A2 forgoes narration in favor of offering an objective account of the role that the cult members' beliefs play in their daily lives: prayer sessions that last into the small hours of the morning, rituals that see them drink pots of salt water and purge themselves immediately afterward, m a l t "It has to do with energy," one member explains.
It would be easy to dismiss A2 as being sympathetic to Aum, but the film avoids portraying members as victims. Rather, it shows their resilience in the face of the intense criticism and scrutiny that has become a regular part of their lives. When a group of about 30 people protest outside their living quarters one afternoon, the cult members are surprised at the small turnout and wonder whether there'll be more to come.
When Aum announced it had changed its name to Aleph in October last year, Mori was behind the scenes as cult spokespeople prepared for the press conference in Tokyo. It turns out that Araki's biggest concern ahead of the big announcement is an unruly cowlick that Tatsuko Muraoka, one of the cult's top representatives, complains is an eyesore. It's almost like a scene between mother and son--until the two, along with other members, march out in front of the cameras in their characteristically stoic manner. When the conference is over, though, none can help but to burst into giggles of relief.
Although Mori demonstrates his intimacy with his subjects by placing himself in front of the camera, he never questions their beliefs. This is what makes the film so difficult to watch because the mass media have gone to great pains to dictate the way we think and feel about Aum. And when Mori shows us how selective the media have been in shaping our view of the cult and allows us to make our own decisions about the cult, the moral burden is almost too much to bear.
A2 will be screened during the 2001 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, which runs Oct. 3-9 at the Yamagata Central Public Hall, Yamagata Citizens' Hall and other locations throughout the city. The festival includes an international competition, Japanese and Asian independent programs, retrospectives of the works of Robert Kramer and Fumio Kamei and more. All films will be screened with English and/or Japanese subtitles or simultaneous English interpretation. Admission for tickets bought in advance is 800 yen per screening, 2,000 yen for three screenings and 5,000 yen for 10. At the door, the cost is 1,000 yen, 2,500 yen and 7,000 yen, respectively. Festival passes also are available. For more information, call (023) 624-9618, (03) 5362-0672, or visit the festival's Web site at www.city.yamagata.yamagata.jp/
NAGOYA - A group of residents of Nagoya's Naka Ward asked the ward chief on Wednesday to reject residence applications by members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, group members and their supporters said.
They said the group and its supporters delivered petitions from about 3,900 people to Naka Ward chief Motohide Itoyanagi.
Itoyanagi told group representatives, ''Naka Ward, in view of the serious anxiety of its residents, decided not to accept residence slips from AUM followers and notified AUM of our decision.''
The Nagoya branch of AUM Shinrikyo has relocated from Nishi Ward to Naka Ward in the center of Nagoya, which may become the cult's new headquarters in central Japan.
The branch previously occupied a building in Nishi Ward. It vacated the building once before in December 1999, but returned in August last year after promising the landlord it would stop holding religious seminars there.
However, religious activities continued and AUM followers have frequented the building, according to investigators.
AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara has been indicted on various criminal charges, including ones related to the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 people dead and injured thousands.
TOKYO - Six years ago on a Monday morning in March, members of a Japanese doomsday cult placed five plastic bags containing the deadly nerve gas sarin on crowded Tokyo subway trains, releasing the gas as the cars neared a station beneath the heart of the nation's government offices.
Within minutes of the attack by the Aum Supreme Truth cult, passengers began collapsing. Twelve people died and nearly 6,000 were left ill.
Now, in the wake of last week's shocking attacks by suicide pilots on U.S. power centres, some U.S. lawmakers and experts have upgraded their warnings that the future may hold far more chilling assaults involving chemical or biologicial weapons.
"For several years now, the U.S. government and Defense Department has identified as a major, serious threat the proliferation of mass destruction weapons including biological and chemical weapons," said Carl Thayer, a regional expert at the Asia Pacific Center for Security in Hawaii.
"The sarin attack has been used as an example of how this might be mounted," Thayer said. "It was the technical incompetence of those people who mounted the attack that limited the number of deaths.
"Determined terrorist groups will alter their tactics, so the likelihood has probably intensified," he said, adding that the threat would be magnified if U.S. retaliation killed large numbers of civilians.
Some experts have cautioned against exaggerating the threat, noting significant technical barriers exist to carrying out an effective biological attack.
But others, dubbing biological weapons in particular "the poor man's atom bomb," have urged increased efforts to counter any such assault.
At the weekend, U.S. lawmakers again sounded the alarm and warned that the United States was ill-prepared to cope.
"In my judgment, it's not a question of if there will be biological or chemical weapons attacks, but when -- and of what magnitude," U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican who heads the House government reform subcommittee on national security, said on Saturday in Washington.
An article in Jane's Intelligence Review earlier this month by Rand corporation expert Dr Peter Chalk said concerns about biological warfare and bio-terrorism had spread over the past decade due to several factors, including revelations as to the scope of Iraq's bio-warfare efforts after the Gulf War.
He estimated that the capability to produce biological weapons had spread to at least 17 states and cited indications that "sub-state terrorist organisations, including Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, have an active interest in developing BT (bio-terrorism) capability."
U.S. officials have named Saudi-born Muslim militant bin Laden as the key suspect in last week's attacks.
The 1995 sarin attack could have been expected to jolt Japan into better readiness for chemical or biological attacks, but experts said Japan was still among the least-prepared, a legacy of its World War Two experiments with biological weapons.
"In general the capacity to cope is very limited," said defence expert Tomohisa Sakanaka. "It has been thought that even for the military even to do research on such things (as biological warfare) is itself dangerous."
Japan's military has had a chemical warfare unit, which now numbers about 130 personnel, since the Cold War days.
But it has shied away from developing anti-biological warfare capabilities because of fears of a backlash from its Asian neighbours, who still remember its top-secret Unit 731, which conducted biological experiments on Chinese, Korean and Russian prisoners of war during World War Two.
"We have learned too much from history," Sakanaka said.
Japan got a second wake up call in 1999 -- one year after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile that passed over Japan -- when the United States alerted it to Pyongyang's biological and chemical weapons programmes.
Two years later, little progress appears to have been made.
A Defence Ministry spokesman said the ministry last year sought input from experts on what steps it should take and had sent officers to the United States to study ways to detect and protect against biological weapons.
This year the ministry is seeking a 2.9 billion yen ($24.62 million) budget to begin research on the topic of biological weapons and fund training in the United States.
TOKYO - Defense lawyers for a former senior AUM Shinrikyo cultist asked the Tokyo High Court on Thursday to overturn a ruling sentencing him to death for killing a family and fellow sect member, arguing their client was under mind control by his guru.
The lawyers for Kazuaki Okazaki, 40, pled for leniency in their closing argument of an appeal of the Tokyo District Court's death sentence handed down on Oct. 23, 1998. The ruling was the first death sentence handed down in trials of members of the doomsday cult.
Okazaki admitted that he and other AUM members killed anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko in November 1989. Okazaki was also convicted of killing former AUM member Shuji Taguchi, 21, in February 1989.
In the appeal, his lawyers asked for leniency, arguing Okazaki was under mind control of the cult's founder Shoko Asahara, 46, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, at the time he committed the killings and that his confession contributed to solving the crimes.
A decision by the Tokyo High Court is expected to be handed down on Dec. 13.
Taguchi had threatened to kill Asahara if he was not allowed to quit the cult, according to the district court ruling. Sakamoto was helping parents get their children out of the cult and preparing a lawsuit against it.
TOKYO - Seiichi Endo, a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, broke his silence Tuesday about the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack he is accused of helping mastermind, and apologized to the victims during his trial at the Tokyo District Court.
Endo, 41, told the court, ''It is true that sarin (gas) our people produced was used in the subway attack. I feel sorry for the victims and the victims' families.''
Endo had previously refused to testify about the attack in his trial or when appearing as a witness at hearings of other indicted AUM members.
He admitted he was involved in manufacturing the sarin at the order of cult founder Shoko Asahara, 46, and Hideo Murai, a senior AUM member who is now dead.
''Defendant Tomomasa Nakagawa, defendant Masami Tsuchiya and I produced (sarin),'' Endo said.
Nakagawa, Tsuchiya as well as Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, have all been indicted along with Endo on charges related to the sarin attack on the subway system.
The Tokyo subway gassing March 20, 1995, left 12 people dead and more than 5,000 people injured.
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