Known as Kairo to Japanese audiences, Pulse is the inspiration for the American remake about a film in which a ghost spreads through technological devices, in a way very much matching a virus. While the American version in all likelihood incorporates lots of high-end shock values and gore (admitedly I have never seen it so I can not say with certainty, it is purely speculation), the Japanese original predicates itself on a very drawn-out dreary and desolate vision of horror. While this focus on isolation can be off-putting and even boring to many viewers, I found the film to be profound and gorgeous in its lackluster appearances. A palette of dull greens and greys, as well as a heavy use of jet black allow for a film to capture both isolation in a cinematic sense, as well as the computer inspired world from which it draws its inspiration. I would gladly compare the cinematic stylings of this film to The Matrix, although thematically they are two starkly different films. Pulse is firmly a horror film, one that has ghosts, death and a discernible eeriness that is rarely matched in contemporary genre works. I know that J-Horror has come to be associated most closely with The Ring and The Grudge, but I am certain that a strong case could be made for this being the biggest signifier of what Japan had to offer with a new era of filmmaking in the late 90's and early 2000's. They were keen to comment on the affects and effects of technology on a post-modern society and were especially willing to make note of the separation anxiety which ensued from a harsh severing with tradition. An argument could easily be made for this film, as well as the others perviously mentioned existing in a specifically Japanese context, which would help to explain exactly why the works have not excelled as well when remade in America, even with literal shot for shot transfers. It reflects anxieties, unique to Japanese society, particularly those living within Tokyo and as such one must watch this definitively unconventional horror film with this notion stuck in the the back of their mind.
Pulse exists as two seemingly divergent story lines, one involving a young woman named Kudo Michi (Kumiko Aso) who works at a plant shop along with a handful of other friends, most notably a young man named Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi). It is clear that Michi has feelings for Taguchi, something that is problematized when Taguchi shows up to work with a computer disc that contains an unusual video of ghosts. The video on the disc seems to cause Taguchi to commit suicide, the moments prior caught in their own video moment, depicting a pale wraith-like Taguchi simply staring into a computer monitor. As their interactions continue, it becomes apparent that the video is causing all those who view it to become profusely depressed to the result of suicide, something Michi is forced to witness, causing her greater despair as she is forced through Tokyo as the suicidal virus spreads. The second storyline involves a computer novice named Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) as he comes into contact with the virus accidentally and seeks help after he realizes the video continues to play even after he unplugs his computer. He ends up recruiting the help of a computer science student named Harue (Koyuki) who her self becomes entangled in the problematics of the virus. After an interaction with a graduate student in computer sciences, Ryosuke is informed that the apparitions he is witnessing do, in fact, exist in the real real, although they still contain an ethereal nature about them. The ghosts apparently have a sole purpose of driving those who see them into a suicidal fit, as to join them in their disparaging loneliness. After separate interactions with the desolation of the world around them, Ryosuke and Harue eventually encounter one another making it their quest to outrun the isolation and the virus, eventually making it to a freight ship that is to leave to Latin America, one of the few places with living human contact believed still to exist. Tragically, despair has overwhelmed Ryosuke and he vanishes into ash in the films closing scenes.
This film is fully about notions of isolation and despair, suggesting heavily that the reason for such disconnections can be found to some degree in contemporary society's refusal to detach itself from technology. However, as Colette Balmain argues quite eloquently in her article for Japanesestudies.org, the loneliness existing within this film, as well as works like The Ring and Suicide Club express a unique despair to Japan, one that is influenced heavily by cultural attachments to architecture, as well as environment and memory. While I do not intend to reiterate what she has already said, as it is a great read and well worth checking out in the attachment, I instead want to draw upon a few other moments where this isolation occurs within the film. First off, the computer program created by the graduate student in the film is essentially a glorified star movement screensaver in which a group of dots move about, without colliding. The dots cannot cross, because to do so would mean their destruction, however, the farther they separate the strong the force to pull them together becomes. In this sense, it represents the technological divide faced by the characters in the film, in essence they use technology to become "closer" only to realize that physical interactions inevitably result in loss and the pain of such moments will cause inevitable grief and untimely death. This metaphor is furthered when a bug in the program causes the creation of phantom dots that follow around the original dots, suggesting a spectral essence. Ultimately, the program and the film suggest a ethereal presence that emerges as a result of technology, very Buddhist in its creation, not in its interactions. This notion is quite intriguing in that it raises questions of mind, body and how it is problematized with a non-physical presence, or what we have come to call our online personas. While much of the technology in Pulse has become quite outdated the message is more pertinent than before, because the fears posited in the film have only grown exponentially.
Key Scene: There is one capturing of a ghost on a computer screen as it moves in and out of nothingness that is particularly intense.
Buy this movie if you even remotely like horror films, Japanese films or works of cinema that comment on technology in contemporary society, it will fill a cinematic void in you that you were probably not aware existed. It is relatively cheap on Amazon and free to watch instantly to Prime members.