Mar 19, 2020 • 2M

Meet Atsushi

Atsushi Sakahara
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Atsushi Sakahara survived terrorism at the hands of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, now he's facing Indie doc distribution.
Episode details

Atsushi Sakahara is an energetic man in his 50s. Though he struggles to fit into Japanese society, which he characterizes as having a village mentality, he’s the very definition of a last generation Kyoto fella. Polite and acutely aware of hierarchy, Atsushi is both down-to-earth and prone to name-dropping.

I met Atsushi the beginning of 2018. At that point, he had been working the his documentary for 5 years. He’d shot it, cut it, and now, just had to fine-tune and finish it. But there was something incomplete about it, murky and convoluted. A diamond in the rough. Having grown up in this era of terrorism, I was hooked on this idea of calling up your terrorist and having a chat. After we met, he sent me his seven page life story and maybe unsurprisingly, surviving the Sarin gas attack was not the most unbelievable event of his life.

As part of my work with The Hong Kong International Film Festival Collection, we signed the film for international representation and waited for the final cut. A whole year later, after many conversations we decided it had to be edited professionally. At first, he had had an editor whose cut Atsushi could not accept — “his family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, he himself had just left.” Atsushi let him go and began cutting on his own.

“I don’t think I realised how bad my PTSD was until I began cutting on my own, you know,” he told me, “I would get sleepy, my body paralyzed.”

On a recommendation from a Japanese producer, we reached out to Junko Watanabe. Her work was clearcut, classical, and concise. She brought us a wholly new and refreshing view of the film, like a bear after hibernation. “It’s crazy strong,” said Atsushi, after watching it for the first time. The main story was the same but the film was unrecognizable from his previous versions.

On previous discussions, we had gone back on forth on how to relay information on the cult, the attack, and the media circus surrounding the event. In the final cut, we decided to stick to the core story: two men from the same area, of the same age, who attended the same school, on the great divide between terrorist and terrorized.

After receiving the final cut, our plan was to send the film to festivals and grants to come up with the final money to finish post-production. We’re looking for a sound editor and a colourist (hit me up if you think you know someone) while brainstorming other ways to help the film gain traction and finance the last $35,000.

After his father’s death late last year, Atsushi has also taken on caring for his elderly mother and shouldered the mortgage on their family home to help his mother age-in-place. In the last months, we’ve worked between his schedule at a print factory, a amazon-like fulfillment centre, and various other odd jobs.

As COVID-19 makes navigating an increasing number of cancelled and postponed festivals even harder, we’ve decided to spend some time going over the story of the cult and the attack to provide context to the film itself. While the film focuses on the lives of two individuals, we’ve begun working on a podcast, “Before / After Aum” to deep dive into the context which gave rise to Aum and the 1995 Sarin Gas Attack.

Here’s the trailer:

Episode 1 coming April 8, 2020.