Thursday, July 08, 2010

Japan Cuts ’10: King of Thorn

Evidently in the future, technology will make fairy tales come true—at least the scary parts. For 160 patients who have contracted a lethal new disease, a mysterious cryogenic facility represents hope for a future. However, the story of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) takes on unforeseen significance for them in Kazuyoshi Katayama’s apocalyptic science fiction anime feature King of Thorn (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2010 Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Cinema.

The Medusa virus is a death sentence. It lays dormant for sixty days and then turns its victims into calcified statues. Venus Gate, a big pharma conglomerate, offers to the chance to arrest the disease’s progression in their Cold Sleep Capsule Center (CSCC), while their scientists presumably work to develop a cure. However, the government is suspicious of their true intentions and for good reason. Their CEO is Ivan Vega, a former Soviet chemical weapons officer, and their majority stockholder is a doomsday cult. Sleep tight.

Needless to say, things do not proceed as advertised. Rudely awakened, they find their sleep chamber overgrown with thorny vines. Then the monsters attack, quickly thinning their ranks to an archetypal seven, including Kasumi Ishiki, a young school girl desperate to learn what has become of her identical twin. Unfortunately, the survivors have no idea how long they have slept, or if the world outside the ruined CSCC even still exists.

While Thorn’s characterization is roughly on par with the anime industry standard, its fusion of futuristic speculative fiction and old fashioned fairy tales is eerily effective. Indeed, Katayama’s briar imagery is quite memorable. Based on a manga series by Yuji Iwahara that has been licensed in America, it certainly shares common elements with a host of science fiction films, but it synthesizes them in intriguing ways. Yet, it is the tragic vibe that really distinguishes the film. Still, the final twenty minutes or so can be hair-pullingly frustrating, as Thorn burrows ever deeper into Matrix-like territory.

Thorn is a pretty cool manga to anime transfer. Granted, the core audience will be the otaku-fanboys, but those who come to Japan Cuts for more art-house oriented fare might find it a diverting surprise. It screens at the Japan Society (in Manhattan’s fashionable Turtle Bay neighborhood) this Sunday (7/11).