King of Thorn (Ibara no Oh in Japanese) is a well-produced movie. It in many respects didn’t remind me of anime (series), but of western films. The plot in particular, which is a death-game meeting a mindscape film.
At a pretty early stage, I saw resemblance to the 2009 film Pandorum, and also to 1997’s Cube. Later on they actually reveal some of those similarities, at least to Cube aren’t superficial, when Alice speaks of how the whole way the event had been orchestrated was so specific people would survive, so Kasumi could make it out – the dangerous criminal, the leader-cop, the nurse who takes care of the helpless oracle (the child), and of course, cannon fodder, along with someone who possesses internal knowledge to get them started on their journey.
(This is a “Things I Like” post. It’s slightly more “reviewy” than usual, touching on the themes and production, rather than exploring them in-depth. The 2nd half of this piece tries to explain the ending, the “mystery”, and also elaborate on character-motivations. Full-film spoilers ahead.)
It’s apparent almost from the first moment that this film is more than a bit of a “mindscape” film, where it’s hard to tell apart what’s real and what’s imagined, and who’s hiding what. The child who speaks of monsters from his game comes not long after a line that no one that had watched such movies or much anime for some time could ignore: They ask the owner of the place whether they dream during their cryostasis, and the answer is that the system manipulates their brains’ electrical currents, meaning it can create false visions and dreams, and then they enter sleeping pods of the sort you see in The Matrix. I even took a note of what a big “line” it is, of how much of a tell it actually is.
It all added up to me questioning whether they are awake or still dreaming within the film, and if they’re dreaming, which character is the one dreaming it is. They touched on it nicely in the end, when Marco died, and he said that our world is the dream of another entity. The concept of the world being the dream of God or the Earth itself is nothing new, but the “Is this us dreaming the world, or the world dreaming us?” moment related quite well to the rest of the film.
Dreams, and wishes. But the ending wasn’t the real point of the film, nor was it the “plot”, as much as it was the journey of self-discovery, seeing the vistas born from our minds, seeing the results of our wishes. Wishing to live against all external threats, wishing to win against the insidious enemy that is despair.
It was a beautiful movie, with a good musical score. It was well-acted. The symbolism and constant references to “sleeping beauty” were a nice touch, even if they didn’t actually mean anything. But should they have had any meaning? They meant something to the characters. The fables and games and everything are just a roadmap for them to find their way in this confusing world, and even if there’s no deeper meaning, then perhaps one isn’t necessary.
A strong 7/10. One that felt somewhat heavy. I truly felt like I was watching a film, rather than some light episodes strung together.
An Explanation of the Ending and Who’s Who:
Note: The following section for the most part only makes sense if you’ve actually watched the film, as most of my posts are actually discussions assuming you’ve done so.
But just in case, in the end of the film our heroine reaches the “Cradle”, only to discover her twin sister is the one who had created all these thorns, and that this power to shape reality comes from aliens. We then find out that the “heroine” is actually a fake created, after one sister had accidentally killed the other, trying to die with her rather than let one of them survive, alone.
Now, here’s something that is interesting. Who lives? Who died? Of course, both the original Kasumi and Shizuku died, and a created “Kasumi” survived. That’s not really up for discussion, right? But, who was Sleeping Beauty? Who was the rampaging one? They kept calling her, because if the girl we all had access to was “Kasumi”.
But then we saw that the girl in the tower had a scar on her hand, while fake girl didn’t. Girl in tower was Kasumi. Alternative girl was “Shizuku”. Wait, why? Kasumi wanted to die, Shizuku ended up dying instead of her. Kasumi wanted her sister to come back more than anything else, so she recreated Shizuku. The Shizuku she created mostly a shell though. Now Real-Kasumi had to think of how she could get her beloved sister to live, while she herself wanted to die. The irony is that only Kasumi could survive, so Real-Kasumi put Alternative-Shizuku into Alice, and had her become “Kasumi”, so she could live.
How did Alternative-Shizuku become Fake-Kasumi? Here we go back to the all-important question about dreams. Alice had taken a snapshot of each of the characters’ personalities. Alice and Kasumi-in-the-tower had put Alternative-Shizuku into the capsule, and imprinted Real-Kasumi’s memories into her.
But here we got into this tangled yarn of thorny vines. Kasumi wanted Shizuku to live. Real-Kasumi created Alternative-Shizuku and made her think she’s Real-Shizuku so she’d manage to get out, and orchestrated everything. But with Real-Kasumi’s memories, Alternative-Shizuku was sure Shizuku is trapped in the tower, so threw away the gift she had been given in order to try and save Shizuku. And so the roles had been reversed, with Shizuku, who is the Sleeping Beauty, mentally, and with regards to knowing the truth, trying to save The Prince, who had woken her up, given her another life, and then woke her up from the Cryostasis.
All the thorns had two reasons. First, Real-Kasumi had twin desires: The first was saving Shizuku, so she tried to bar the way to her, so Alternative-Kasumi will not learn the truth. Second, she did not wish to break away from Shizuku, so aside from creating another alternative, a part of her tried to lock her in. But here’s Real-Kasumi’s other true wish. She wished to die. She tried to kill herself for the sake of Shizuku twice, but when it boils down to it, she wanted to die. Having essentially killed Shizuku in her second suicide attempt, she was filled with mad grief and self-hatred, manifesting in the birthing of monsters, and lashing out at the world, while trying to lock herself up in her castle.
Real-Kasumi saw herself as the witch, and so she had cursed herself, to lock herself away from the world, even as she tried to destroy the world that had been so unkind to her, taking away her parents and sister.