Watching Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s outstanding Japanese horror movie Pulse 16 years after it was initially released the most shocking thing is both how far forward technology has advanced and yet how tragically relevant the movies message still is.
Centering around a strange website which asks the unsettling question “Do you want to meet a ghost?” Pulse’s plot plays out as two sets of young people living in Tokyo start to notice folks slowly disappearing around them while several of their close colleagues tragically and unexpectedly commit suicide.
As the freaked out friends start to investigate further they discover rooms sealed up with red tape and a string of weird webpages showing people alone in their homes. With the disappearances escalating and the increasing appearance of solemn sinister figures in the shadows all around them it seems something supernatural has crossed over to our world and it won’t leave.
Shot in the mundane real and rundown everyday apartments and environments the Tokyo characters inhabit Pulse has a palpable feel of fear from the very start which is expertly created.
The heart of this fear is the idea of loneliness which seems to infect the characters who are simultaneously attracted to the mysterious websites and specters they see but driven into depression and existential dismay once they have confronted them, a concept inventively paralleled in the simplistic life simulation created in the computer lab where ever moving white dots on a black screen recreate the same phenomenon.
This technological aspect is what is both the most dated yet most visionary element of Pulse. In one scene for example a character has to explain to another how to bookmark a webpage and the archaic dial-up kit, lack of computer literacy or innate internet knowledge seems almost laughable to us now.
The site itself that obsesses many of the unfortunate people in the film appears like a stream of creepy Chatroulette’s with grainy webcam footage inside various dingy homes where hunched figures with hidden faces sit watching something we can’t see and sometimes, sometimes the screen shows them their own room.
What Pulse taps into is the irony of the internet which allegedly connects us all yet leaves us physically alone. As one character points out there is no real difference between these haunted lonely humans glued to their screens and the otherworldly ghosts which now traverse our world.
The door which has opened between the ethereal plan and ours allows movement both ways much like the internet which we hook up in our homes and stare into never really sure what is staring back at us from the other side.
With the city gradually vacated of humanity save the primary protagonists the film also excellently serves up the scenario we currently face in our capitalist society of a world filled with buildings, machines and endless pointless consumable products all surviving and functioning long past the last human being has vanished, a concept to fill anyone with metaphysical malaise if ever I heard one.
Exquisitely shot with creatively creepy cinematography by Junichiro Hayashi who also worked on The Ring and Dark Water the film has such an intense atmosphere it is suffocating imbuing each scene with a slow drip of dread that floods the screen in its final act.
Pulse achieves such a massive affect on its audience using very simple and subtle special effects that anyone into J-Horror will feel familiar with and these are all intensified by the spooky background sounds and unnerving melodic wailing on the soundtrack.
Personally I have always found Japanese horror films freak me out the most and Pulse is no exception matching the sudden scares and lingering terror with a much deeper and much more disturbing comment on the all-encompassing power of solitude and our societies destructive embracement of physical isolation via the internet.
Ultimately Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s movie is a tremendous and terrifying cautionary tale that none of us heard because we were all too busy online.
Pulse – The Arrow Video Story: