Apr 23, 2009
Beatnik (All reviews)
Believers is a tense pot-boiler of a drama that you could easily imagine as a live action effort directed by Lars von Trier or some other eclectic director with a penchant for putting his actors through the emotional wringer.

Three cult members are on a small island off the coast of Japan taking part in a program to purify themselves in order to become new heightened humans, and the method to do this is through a humble routine of mental exercise and meditation, eating, sleeping, and the occasional secret lust-ridden sex, betrayal, paranoia, death and mutilation.

You see, you can’t just plop three humans on an island and not expect it to all go haywire. Especially since their food rations begin running out thanks to a lack of food drops from their main organisation which is quite obviously in financial and legal trouble.

This all harkens back to the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, and being that this manga was published in 1999 you can feel the millennial fears and worries come to life on the page. Author Naoki Yamamoto takes a pivotal moment in Japanese news and concentrates on the lesser folk involved in the affair, and does it brilliantly by isolating them from the main happenings on the mainland. It is a staple of the thriller genre to increase tension on ordinary people bit by bit until the proverbial pot boils over and Believers delivers on that aspect at an assured pace.

The three characters themselves are well fleshed out with compelling backgrounds and seeing them rub off on each other, quite literally in some cases, is a joy. The lust that rears its head is kinetic, the paranoia and suspicion, the outright jealousy masked by hierarchy is ugly but very real.

As one extreme emotion follows another, the behaviour of the characters, one in particular, becomes more and more selfish in nature and so transparent yet the other two are so weak-willed that for the most part they can’t defend themselves from ridiculous demands and outrageous behaviour that borders on hysterical satire if it weren’t so disturbing and realistic to imagine.

That is Believer's strength, its portrayal of ugly emotions taking flight in humans so easily susceptible to outside influences, so reliant on external stimulation and ideas, not strong enough inside themselves, not strong enough to have realised how bloody stupid it was to join the cult in the first place, let alone willingly go on an island and ultimately allow themselves to spiral into the depths of human instinct gone crazy with blood-lust.

It builds to a terrifying climax and good resolution that almost veers into over the top territory but then refrains and settles for a more logical and satisfying conclusion with some form of liberation. That’s what the entire story is about really, finding liberation.