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Ibara no Ou

Ibara no Ou (2009) Movie Poster
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Japan  •    •  120m  •    •  Directed by: Kazuyoshi Katayama.  •  Starring: Kana Hanazawa, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Eri Sendai, Sayaka Ohara, Akiko Yajima, Kenji Nomura, Shin'ichirô Miki, Kôsei Hirota, Ayako Kawasumi, Misaki Kuno, Yoshinori Fujita, Tsutomu Isobe, Jamie Marchi.  •  Music by: Toshihiko Sahashi.
     A mysterious virus, nicknamed Medusa, is spreading around Japan, turning its victims into stone. Given the impossibility of finding an immediate cure, the government opts for cryopreserving a select group of patients until they come up with a solution. Kasumi, one of the chosen ones, has been asleep for years and her awakening, more than a bed of roses, is a bed of thorns, and happens in the midst of total chaos where monstrous creatures lie in wait all around.

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Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
Image from: Ibara no Ou (2009)
I knew nothing about King of Thorn going in, except that it is a horror anime. Its story begins to unfold with a sense of dread that is very palpable and unique. Nothing violent or apocalyptic occurs within the first 30 minutes or so but, without spoiling the story, those 30 minutes are very dreadful in terms of what looms on the horizon for a set of characters that have a mysterious disease. I remember feeling as emotionally frightened when I read the first third of The Stand, at a younger age, but King of Thorn managed a similar emotional tone without a story of massive, apocalyptic outbreak. The world of King of Thorn manages keep a tentative handle on the disease that plagues it and the dread comes from the sacrifice that the main characters decide on to find a cure, placing their well being in the care of a questionable corporation and tossing away their lives as they've know them.

That is the feeling I had in the first act of this movie. By the second act things become a bit more conventional. The second and some of the third act become survival horror in the vein of similar Japanese stories like Resident Evil. This does not take from the compelling nature of the story and its mystery, but did not feel as rare a story experience as the first act.

The third act however, is filled with exposition that is difficult to follow and otherwise loses interest for me. At one point things become more "anime sci-fi" (a concept I simply cannot explain well), which is not a problem; expect that I didn't feel the story up to that point was building toward it. It felt less creditable for me.

The last 20 minutes, things become very muddled and subplots for the remaining survivors and their true motivations get tangled up in a more and more nonsensical plot. Things become more fanciful for the sake of animation visuals and sci-fi explanations for such events, if not ignored, seem to be quickly served out. More interesting, if you can trudge through these problems, is the ultimate twist ending involving the young female protagonist.

And my major complaint with King of Thorn, however, is that many action scenes switch from the otherwise traditional 2D anime style, to a cell shaded CGI animation process. It's 3D computer animation that is processed to look flat and try to mesh with the majority of the rest of the movie's hand drawn style. No doubt this was a cheaper way for the animation team to create complex action scenes and have more control, but the two styles do not mesh well. The cell-shaded CGI is not as glossy in color as the 2D animation and also misses many drawing details, like grime and dirt on the characters faces. Inexperienced anime viewers might not pick up on the switch all the time, but may still feel the action scenes have an odd movement and don't quite sit right.


Review by SebastienPatenaude [IMDB 4 August 2010] from the Internet Movie Database.