For a number of years now there has been a growing trend to transplant Japanese thrillers and bring them the United States, most of the time they seem to get diluted with their trip over the Pacific Ocean. When you watch the originals there is little comparison. With that in mind consider Kairo (Pulse) from cult horror/thriller director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. There is an American remake but do yourself a favor and stick with the original. As with most good horror flicks the plot serves only to set up the thrills, it is the execution (pun intended) that matters not the believability of the story line. While working at a botanical garden, Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) comes across a strange computer disc. Soon afterwards he seems to have disappeared of the face of the earth. After about a week his friend and co-worker fellow gardener Michi (Kumiko Aso) goes to Taguchiís apartment. There she discovers that the computer there is broadcasting a web cam of the missing programmerís apartment. She finds Taguchi but after a brief conversation he kills himself, a black mark appearing on the wall behind where he hanged himself. Michi panics, takes the mysterious disc and flees back home. She consults with her friends, Ryousuke Kawashima (Haruhiko KatŰ), a computer-geek economics student and Harue Karasawa (Koyuki), a young technology teacher. When they examine the disc they see the web cam view of the apartment containing images of itself off to infinity. Somewhere across town novice computer user Kawashima Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) tires to connect to the internet for the first time. He comes across a web site that asks "do you want to see a ghost?" Afraid of hackers he goes to a computer lab to inquire about the site where he meets up with Harue a pretty but slightly nerdy computer maven. Slowly more and more people start seeing ghosts and disappearing; they try to ward off the evil by sealing their doors with red tape to no avail. The general consensus is they are being contacted through their computers from beyond the grave. It really doesnít even matter if their computers are disconnected, evil is much better are wireless than any service provided Iíve ever come across. What matters here is everyone that sees these ghostly, shadowy images on their screens are driven to suicide.
This film will only work for audiences here in the States if they are willing to appreciate and be accepting of the cultural difference with Japanese audiences. For most Americanís a horror film has to be overtly and liberally laced with strange methods to kill off the characters. We here are too used to the Freddy and Jason style killers to fully appreciate the much different style favored in Japan. Their horror stories are more esoteric even bordering on the existential. Where a person in Japan might prefer a well prepared meal, Americans want their horror like their food, fast. The typical American horror film has to have some horrific demise within the first reel. The Japanese are able to slowly immerse the audience into the horror. The scope of the threat is typically greater in these Japanese imports. In the States it is enough to threaten a summer camp or small town. In Pulse the whole human race may face eradication. There is also more in the way sub text to this film. The lack of communication between the characters is indicative of the isolation that the growing use of the internet provides. Many people are more comfortable online than communicating with an actual living human being. This feeling of isolation comes across very well here. What happens when this seemingly protected means of communication is co-opted by the dead for their own heinous plans? The closest we have every come to this in the States is the classic David Cronenberg horror-mystery, Videodrome. Pulse is almost a cyber space version of that great flick.
The cast here provides more than the typical horror genre fodder for death, they actually act. I know, this seems odd, to have to pay attention to the performances in a film like this but the cast gives noteworthy performances. Kumiko Aso is sympathetic and emotionally open. She connects with the audience enough if you have to divert some of your thought process to reading the subtitles. She is more than the American scream queen that will without a doubt be cast in the remake here. Aso has a vulnerability that comes off the screen to emotionally pull the audience into caring about her plight. Koyuki is also more than just the pretty girl that the audience watching waiting for her demise. Koyuki gives a performance that helps the audience to believe her as a fully formed human being not someone with an arrow reading victim on it.
The name of the writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa may not be well known in region one countries. Too bad, we are missing a lot there. Kurosawa does not just present a series of slightly related shocks he crafted this story for optimum effect. The story is built from the ground up. The audience is not just dumped into the carnage; actually this is extremely little in the way of visible blood shed here. It would appear that the trend in American flicks is to see who can use the most fake blood. With Kairo Kurosawa appreciates something that Alfred Hitchcock discovered a long time ago, the biggest scare is in your heads, not before your eyes. The pacing here is masterful. You are immersed in the plot slowly like easing into a warm bath it surrounds you. Instead of our usual immediate gratification there is a challenge to your mind that makes this more frightening than all of the Americanized remakes. You will find yourself discussing this film with your friends after it ends. The film was made in 1997 but not released until 2001. It was well worth the wait.
Magnolia Home deserves a lot of praise for bringing the original to DVD with such attention to detail. The video is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1. The color is occasionally biased to the greens but this is part of the directorís vision for the feel of the film. In other scenes the color palette is natural and realistic. The contrast is excellent, no defects or artifacts are anywhere to be found. The soundtrack is full and rich with extremely well done channel separation. There are both English and Spanish subtitles provided for those of us not gifted in Japanese. There is a behind the scenes featurette provided that details some of the problems encountered during production. For a foreign language film it is rare to provide any extras. Expand your view of what a horror film should be. Challenge your mind as well as your senses and add this worthy film to your collection.