Since cult leaders are known to be narcissists and megalomaniacs with the belief they don’t have to follow the rules of society, it’s honestly no surprise they end up taking things way too far. Amongst them was actually Shoko Asahara, whose Aum Shinrikyo devotees carried out not only several assassinations in the 1980s but also the Tokyo Subway Sarin domestic attack in 1995. Yet for now — with Netflix’s ‘How to Become a Cult Leader’ having chronicled the same as well — let’s simply find out more about survivor turned public film figure Atsushi Sakahara, shall we?
Who is Atsushi Sakahara?
Since Atsushi was reportedly born on August 22, 1966, into a rather middle-class family in Kyoto City, Japan, he has always known the importance of commitment, compassion, and hard work. It thus comes as no surprise he took up an intense job at Dentsu Inc.-Tokyo shortly after earning his Economics degree from Kyoto University, just to ultimately end up in an executive position. Though little did the youngster realize this would inadvertently turn his whole world upside down — after all, he was on his way to work on March 20, 1995, when the nerve gas was dispersed.
As per reports, Aum Shinrikyo members had coordinated the release of this homemade sarin in five train cars on three subway lines during rush hour on the fateful day in an act of knowing terrorism. That’s because they apparently wanted to hinder the police investigations into their doomsday organization and perhaps even spark the apocalypse or the World War they wholeheartedly believed in. This heinous, needless attack actually resulted in the loss of 14 innocent lives while roughly 1,050 more individuals were injured in various capacities, amongst whom was 28-year-old Atsushi.
“I remember getting in the third door from the front of the first carriage after the train pulled in at Roppongi Station,” Atsushi said. “I was holding a newspaper, and I saw a free seat, and I moved towards it, but then I saw a folded newspaper on the floor leaking a clear liquid. I nearly stepped on it. I sensed concern in the other passengers, so I turned around and went the other way down the carriage.” His not sitting down there undoubtedly saved his life, yet he’d already been exposed — he was admittedly reading an article on the Aum cult when his eyes began to uncontrollably lose focus.
That’s when Atsushi moved into a different carriage, but it still wasn’t enough as his vision gradually started to get darker until the point he realized he had to rush to a nearby local hospital. He thankfully didn’t need the antidote as his injuries weren’t severe despite the trauma mentally preparing him to die — instead, he was discharged following a few hours of close observation. Then, the advertising-public relations industry executive decided to quit his job and pursue an MBA from the renowned University of California-Berkeley, halfway across the world.
Where is Atsushi Sakahara Now?
Atsushi was honestly just trying to escape his past in the US, but even though he found unimaginable success after helping a friend make a short film entitled ‘Bean Cake,’ it kept haunting him. The 2001 Cannes Palme D’Or-winning director hence returned to his homeland, where he reportedly soon kickstarted a new career in the creation-dissemination of management technology. And from there, the Kyoto native evolved into a business consultant as well as an author — he has penned not only several self-help and management theory books but also an autobiography called ‘Sarin and Ohagi.’
However, what admittedly helped Atsushi gain some closure was his feature-length documentary on the entire gas attack and its long-term consequences, ‘AGANAI: Me and the Cult Leader.’ After all, this film revolves around him and Aum’s (now Aleph’s) executive Hiroshi Araki as they get to learn one another’s perspectives by visiting their hometowns as well as universities together. We should mention he was once also married to a former Aum member (while she was in college) for around 18 months. Plus, despite everything, he unfortunately sometimes still has trouble sleeping, faces numbness in his limbs, and blacks out owing to the sarin.
Therefore, today, it appears as if Atsushi is simply trying to lead a rather stable, happy, content life for himself in Kyoto as an academic, an entrepreneur, a film director, and a philosopher. In fact, he currently serves as a part-time lecturer at Kyoto Seika University along with Osaka City University, is enrolled in the Information Engineering Doctoral Program at Utsunomiya University, and is a researcher at the Service Innovation Research Institute, Meiji University. Moreover, this Representative of the Sarin Victims Association is also an International Jury Member for the Bangkok International Documentary Film Festival and the Co-founder of Logiglish.
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