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King of Thorn

Entry updated 5 September 2022. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (2010). Original title Ibara no Ou. Sunrise. Based on the Manga by Yuji Iwahara. Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama. Written by Kazuyoshi Katayama and Hiroshi Yamaguchi. Cast includes Kana Hanazawa, Tsutomu Isobe, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Eri Sendai and Akiko Yajima. 109 minutes. Colour.

After a 30-60 day incubation period, Acquired Cellular Induration Syndrome (ACIS), popularly known as Medusa, fatally petrifies the body within 12 hours. Its Pandemic spread amongst the world's population, with no cure in prospect, means a State of Emergency is declared by the UN Security Council. Mr Vegas (Isobe) of the chemical manufacturer Venus Gate announces the company has developed a Cold Sleep (see Cryonics) process that works for at least 100 years: 160 people will be frozen until a cure has been found (see Medicine). In October 2015, despite concerns over Venus Gate's connections to a religious cult, the 160 candidates are brought to a castle in Scotland where they are frozen, their sleep overseen by an apparent AI, ALICE. Answering media questions, Vegas mentions ALICE will be able to control the sleepers' dreams (see Dream Hacking).

The sleepers awake: no Venus Gate staff are present, ALICE is silent and the building has been infested with thorn trees. Even more alarmingly, they are attacked by assorted Monsters that kill nearly everyone. A boy, Tim (Yajima), recognizes the creatures from a Videogame. One of the survivors is the Scientist who invented Cold Sleep – worried about the company's true plans, he wants to gather evidence. He is killed, but not before discovering that only 48 hours have passed. A distraught Vega appears, declaring, "The subject went out of control ... the experiment done to turn dreams into reality."

Medusa first appeared eight years ago after a meteorite storm in Siberia, wiping out an entire village, save for one child – Alice, who was found by Vega; as was a strange monkey-like creature. He learnt Medusa hastens the Evolution of the higher mental functions – the animal was a physical product of Alice's imagination (see Psi Powers). Vega's plan had been to use the sleepers as an experiment in speeding up evolution. Alice had died, but on the day of freezing someone suitable for controlling the computer in her stead was found ... however, their emotional distress caused the experiment to go out of control, with their thoughts manifesting in reality. It turns out the parasitic (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) Medusa works best on victims suffering from trauma. The castle is infested throughout with thorns – the story of Sleeping Beauty [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] being repeatedly evoked. Towards the end the thorn branches entwine to form a giant dragon: "It's the King of Thorn," says Tim.

One of the survivors – now down to four – is Kasumi Ishiki (Hanazawa). Her twin Shizuki (Sendai) had not been selected, leading Kasumi to attempt suicide before her sister calmed her down. Shizuki accompanied her to the castle, where Kasumi – unable to bear being apart – tried to get Shizuki to jump from a cliff with her. Kasumi had fallen: Shizuki's resulting trauma activated her Medusa and a duplicate Kasumi was made (see Clones). The now unconscious Shizuki was taken by Vega to become part of ALICE, where she tried to protect the new Kasumi – but, as she admits, she lost control. Shizuki accepts that Kasumi must now live on her own: the King of Thorn and the castle break up. Kasumi is left with Tim and the film's main action hero, Marco Owen (Morikawa). She wonders if these experiences might be her dreams whilst in cold sleep; Marco, who's dying, suggests they might be the dream of some evolved being from long ago (see Perception).

This Anime suffers from trying to condense the source manga into one film (there are many changes): it does not entirely cohere and the tempo seems rushed, with the Sleeping Beauty parallels seeming forced, whilst the Medusa problem facing the world is left unresolved. However, watched uncritically, the plentiful action, solid animation, gore and genre ideas make King of Thorn a good Horror in SF film. [SP]

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