Based on the real events surrounding the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks that killed twelve passengers and injured over a thousand, the feature film Canary explores the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult responsible, and the hypnotic psychological sway they held over its members. But writer and director Akihiko Shiota is less interested in the brutal sensationalism of that mass assault – it’s never shown but only spoken about – than the traumatic effect and enduring damage on those most vulnerable, the children. And by extension, this grim national portrait is an implicit commentary about a nation whose nurturing of its youth is being called into question.
Canary focuses on the plight of two emotionally neglected twelve year olds. Koichi (Hoshi Ishida) runs away from the cult compound after his widowed mother goes into hiding following her complicity in the sarin attack, and when his little sister has been taken away by their grandfather. Koichi, who has suffered severe physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the cult because of his defiant resistance to the harsh, servile living conditions there, takes off on foot for the long journey to Tokyo to find his sister.
Along the way, he encounters Yuki (Mitsuki Tanimura), a motherless runaway who survives peddling sexual favors to male motorists. Yuki recognizes Koichi from news reports about the fugitive members of notorious cult, and she takes a strange maternal interest in the distressed boy, as a substitute of sorts in the absence of family concern for either of them. Together they set out on the perilous journey through a mostly indifferent, occasionally protective, and at times dangerous grownup world.
Canary, with a running time well over two hours, could have had a more potent impact with a substantially condensed narrative. But the impassioned performances of these two exceptionally talented young actors hold the story together as it meanders back and forth through time. And, while conveying a searing indictment of a society that may have lost sight of adult responsibility for its most precious human resources.
Canary will premiere at NYC’s ImaginAsian Theater beginning July 25th, and at the ImaginAsian Center in Los Angeles on August 8th.