"Would you like to meet a ghost?"
Known alternately as Kairo, Pulse is one of the films that is often cited as being a pinnacle of the modern East Asian horror trend. Already well known for Cure (aka Kyua) Kourei (aka Séance), and Charisma (aka Karisuma) this is probably director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's most acclaimed film and the one that has brought him the most attention in the West.
Pulse follows two parallel stories: the first follows Michi Kudo (Kumiko Aso) and her co-workers at a small plant sales company as they deal with a series of strange disappearances while the other deals with Ryosuke Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) a student of economics who is experiencing strange phenomena related to a mysterious web site. Both paths will eventually lead them to the same place, but with a different subtext that becomes more apparent when the philosophical themes are further explored.
Part of what makes this film work so well is what makes most recent Asian horror films so appealing. The pace tends to be very slow and while there are scares to be had they typically rely more on mood and atmosphere bringing on a sense of psychological fear and dread rather than a knife-wielding maniac jumping out at you. There is for that matter little, if any, blood.
What makes Pulse itself work are the deeper philosophical messages that make up the plot. The plot itself is not terribly deep or complicated, but instead it is a framework to explore the idea that all people are alone, will die alone, and will remain lonely and isolated on into an eternity in the afterlife. It is this viewpoint and the skillful way in which it is illustrated that makes the film so frightening.
Michi's storyline focuses largely on the human nature of this isolation. That even co-workers and friends who are together frequently remain fundamentally isolated. Kawashima, on the other hand, is used to explore the nature of technology and how the internet doesn't really connect people and even how in a relationship you will always be isolated from each other, always your own person.
The cinematography does an exceptional job of conveying these feelings. The entire film is a tad murky and washed-out with an emphasis not only on the standard blacks of horror films, but also on dreary greys and sullen earth tones. The overall effect is one that makes it both real and hyper-real like a homemade Super 8 movie of a dream.
At the same time there are flaws. While the plot moves at a slower pace than is common for American cinema it is also relatively guarded. The essential themes are stated quite clearly, but many of the specifics of the plot are only briefly stated and often poorly explained in the end, if at all. A second viewing or some discussion and research on the internet is certain to help you pull together the loose threads, but honestly, the details aren't what really matter.
While the American remake of the film was canceled for a period of time due to Bob Weinstein feeling it was too similar to The Ring (in truth, they have very little in common and are vastly different at a thematic level) the film was completed and released in the USA on August 11, 2006. While I have not personally seen it the trailers seem to indicate a very different direction that bears little in common to the source.
Written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Released February 10, 2001 in Japan, November 9, 2005 USA, February 2, 2006 Region 1 DVD. 119 min. starring Haruhiko Katô, Kumiko Aso, Koyuki, Kenji Mizuhashi, Kurume Arisaka, Masatoshi Matsuo, Show Aikawa, Jun Fubuki, Shinji Takeda and Yakusho Koji.