March 1, 2006
The recent wave of Japanese horror films in the past five years or so seem to have been influenced in some way by the use of electricity and the manipulation of electronic images for horrific effect in David Lynch’s films, Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me (1992) and Lost Highway (1997). Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (2001) takes this notion and created a modern ghost story that plays on our contemporary fears and anxieties about the modern age.
When a young man mysteriously commits suicide, his friends try to figure out why he did it. He left behind a computer disk that he was working on for them. On it is an image of the dead man’s apartment with an obscured figure reflected on a computer monitor. Who is it and what does it have to do with the young man’s death? Strange things start to happen. At one girl’s place, the image on her television distorts in an unusual way. Another boy tries to install internet software on his computer and sees footage of people moving in slow motion appear on his screen. When he goes to sleep his computer connects to the Internet on its own. Finally, someone from the group receives a call on her cell phone from a distorted voice that asks for help repeatedly.
Is the dead man communicating to them from beyond the grave? Images of him (and others) keep appearing and then disappearing with alarming regularity. Gradually, people from the group start disappearing as the fabric of reality starts to break down. As the film progresses you start to notice that the only people that seem to populate this world are the main characters. We don’t see anyone else, not even animals, like a Japanese variation on Carnival of Souls (1962).
Pulse refreshingly downplays gore for garish imagery, like seeing a shadowy figure out of the corner of your eye and it turns out to be someone who’s not supposed to be there. The use of sickly, greenish-yellow lighting and an unsettling soundtrack helps ratchet up the tension and constantly puts the viewer on edge and filled with uneasy feelings. Unlike many Hollywood horror films there are no pat one liners or levity to break the tension.
Pulse’s underlying message is that no one is safe. We are constantly surrounded by all of this technology but what is it doing to us? Are we losing touch with our humanity? The film works so well because it plays on basic fears that anyone can relate to and finds horror in everyday objects like TVs, computers and cell phones. Pulse posits a fascinating notion that ghosts or spirits inhabit a realm that has a finite capacity and when it reaches that limit excess souls overflow into our realm. All it took was something or someone to trigger an opening to let them out.
There is “The Making of Pulse: Behind-the-Scenes Footage” which starts off with a few promos and then goes into on-set footage of Kurosawa and his crew shooting a few scenes from the movie intercut with interview clips with the director. He talks about what is seen on-screen as opposed to off and how he works with actors. This is a nice, little snapshot of Kurosawa at work that runs just over 30 minutes.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.