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Sundance: AUM: The Cult at the End of the World

“Cults are living creatures that feed on people’s anxieties. If you are too pure and sincere, you may end up in a place that is different from where you had set out to be in the first place.”

In the 1980s, Japan experienced an occult boom, an after effect of the Cold War and a result of the growing disenchantment in the country’s government. It was during this time that self-imposed guru Shoko Asahara transformed his yoga school into a doomsday cult: Aum Shinrikyo (“Supreme Truth”). Hundreds of members followed Asahara’s every word and command. What started off as a quest for spiritual enlightenment took a deadly turn. After a disastrous run for local government, Asahara soon transformed AUM  from a cult into a terrorist organization, one that would ultimately be involved in the deadly Tokyo subway sarin attack of 1995. 

Directed by Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto, AUM: The Cult at the End of the World examines the complicated history of AUM and its leader Shoko Asahara. Interviews with former members, including a high ranking monk, loved ones who started a Victims Association and those affected by various sarin attacks, really drive home just how dangerous this cult was in its time. Cult documentaries have gained a following in recent years and anyone fascinated with mind control and cult mentality will find a lot to be horrified by in this film. Apparently AUM is a touchy subject in Japan and the directors made it their mission to handle with delicate topic with great care.

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Am I OK?

Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and June (Sonoya Mizuno) are inseperable. When Lucy discovers that June is moving to London for her job, she’s beside herself. Especially because Lucy is starting to come to terms that despite many attempts at heteronormative relationships, she’s really not interested in men at all. June tries to help guide Lucy in her new journey of coming out of the closet but their disagreements on how Lucy should go about it and what will happen to their friendship when June leaves for London threatens to tear their relationship apart.

Directed by Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro Am I OK? is not your typical coming-out story and in that way it feels fresh and different. Lucy struggles with the intricacies of same sex attraction, especially the mixed signals she gets from her coworker. This film didn’t wow me but it was enjoying. Am I OK? is a heartfelt comedy about friendship and sexuality.

Note to add: I’m not sure when this was shot but there are several scenes that take place in the old 101 Coffee Shop which was a Hollywood treasure until it closed during the pandemic.  It’s now one of the locations for the Clark Street  chain.

Am I OK? premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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