Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pulse (2001)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Notable Cast: Haruhiko Kato, Kumiko Aso, Koyuki, Kurume Arisaka, Masatoshi Matsuo, Shinji Takeda, Jun Fubuki, Shun Sugata, Show Aikawa, Koji Yakusho

“What got you started on the internet?”
“Nothing in particular…”
“You don’t like computers, right?”
“Wanted to connect with other people?”
“Maybe. I don’t know…everybody else is into it.”

It’s a simple scene in the larger realm of Pulse. Two different people, a young man living on his own and a young woman who works on computers for a living, are brought together by a strange website asking a basic question, ‘Do you want to see a ghost?’ It’s their rather mundane interactions and somewhat awkward chemistry that really does encapsulate the entire concept and brilliance of this often-overlooked J-Horror classic, recently given the pristine Blu Ray collector’s treatment by Arrow Video. This is a film about a lot of things. Ghosts, friends, suicide, the fears of a technology and the cultural lag we feel as a society as it continually outpaces our understanding, yet it’s a theme of connection that truly grounds the entire film in a layered manner and lifts it above so many of its horror peers, in J-Horror and beyond. It’s a scene where two unconnected people are brought together in fate like means to try and make a connection that brings to life the subtle script and inspired atmospheric direction of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It’s perhaps not the most memorable, flashiest, scariest, or inspired scene, but it’s one that proves just how insightful Pulse is as a cinematic feat. This is a film that, like its ghosts and protagonists, crosses over into a must more philosophical and terrifying realm where the things on the surface are not always what they seem.  

Michi (Kumiko Aso) stumbles upon a horrific sight. A computer guy helping her out hangs himself after no one can reach him. Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) goes to a computer expert (Koyuki) at the college when he finally caves in by getting the internet and is disturbed by a site that keeps popping up. The two of them will find that something much more sinister is afoot and that both the events that kick off a ghostly spiral are connected…which will lead them to some terrifying discoveries.

How strong is your connection?
Isolation has always been the key ingredient in developing truly effective horror. A cabin in the woods, no cell service, trapped in an abandoned building. These are all things that horror repeatedly uses because isolation is scary. Humanity are inherently social creatures and the feeling of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection is one of the things that seems to scare people the most. Pulse, like many great horror films, takes this sense of isolation to an entirely new level. As I mentioned in the opening of this review, Pulse is a film based on connection and it uses it in some perpetually clever and inspired ways to layer its themes of isolation to effective use. The narrative itself showcases a very busy Japanese society as it continually degrades by some kind of supernatural effect that’s spurred on by the use of the internet as a gateway to a ghostly realm. Director Kurosawa shows this in some inspired ways by always having multiple people in a shot initially, but increasingly using single shots of characters later or showing scenes where there should be a lot of people as empty or desolate by the end of the film. The same goes with the character interactions that seems natural for the circumstance, but get increasingly disconnected and tense as the film goes on. Pulse uses its discord and growing isolation between characters and plot as a way to mimic the disconnect that unnerves us so well. It works because the narrative still flows naturally and realistically (even with the supernatural elements) so that the audience is hooked into what the film has to say and how it says it.

Kurosawa even attempts to disconnect his audience to make them feel the tone and atmosphere as he goes too. Things only increasingly get stranger as the film progresses, not following its own rules at times (or rules that we assume are in place) and increasingly pulling back from traditional structure and storytelling mannerisms to being more vague and philosophical. As it plays out, the answer to ‘why?’ becomes less and less relevant as to the question of ‘what do we do now?’ increases. That’s the beauty of Pulse and perhaps the reason the American remake is so abysmal in comparison. This is a film that requires its audience to feed into its themes and tone with their own personal opinions and emotions for it to work as it should. It’s a film where the details matter, like the use of red tape on doors and windows or the strange theory one computer student has about ghosts that’s replicated by a program using dots, but an explanation is never outright given for them and it crafts a world creating technique that’s quick sand and sucks its audience in leaving them as perplexed and unsure as the characters in the film.

Never turn your back on your friends...
The execution of Pulse is impeccable too and only occasionally slips up through some now dated CGI work or slight stuttering in the narrative flow. The performances, visuals, camera work, and score are all on the same page to add to the thematic and narrative approach to the film though and it makes Pulse a very effective bundle to consume. Kurosawa isn't afraid to push boundaries in either direction with character choices or dynamic shots that only continually feeds into the film's connection/disconnect. Its intense and vague atmosphere along with most of its non-traditional use of ghosts as a scare tactics makes it one that not all people are going to love, particularly if you enjoy your horror to be a bit campier or upfront with its approach. This is film meant to resonate longer than just the watch and requires a few watches to truly appreciate the craftsmanship on hand. Just one more reason to purchase this latest release from Arrow Video.

For those who are interested in this release though, I cannot recommend it enough. Arrow Video pack the Blu Ray and DVD combo with some fantastic special features and the high definition transfer is much better than I remember my DVD looking. Highlights include a new interview with the writer and director and a remarkably fun video appreciation from new age horror masters Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. The entire list of what’s included in the new release is added below for those curious. Pulse is packed with additional features worthy of the cult fanbase it has accumulated over the years and the film itself is damn near J-Horror perfection, so I’m not sure why every cult cinema fan doesn’t already own this release. If you don’t, then I suggest the purchase immediately.

As I’m sure you can tell by now, Pulse is easily one of my favorite horror films of all time, no matter the genre, approach, or era it was released in. It’s a film that takes the usual ghost story, injects it with some serious tech and social commentary, and then layers it with enough existential dread and thematic tone to make it a film where I discover something new every time I watch it. It's a film about connection and it certainly connects with its audience. Pulse isn’t just one of the best J-Horror films of the now semi-forgotten genre, it’s one of the most iconic horror films of its generation and one that’s hard to beat when it comes to thoughtful and effective execution. This film and this Arrow Video release only comes with our highest recommendation.  


  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray)
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • New interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • New interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • The Horror of Isolation: a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You re Next)
  • Archive Making of documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY:Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    1 comment:

    1. Interesting that this is your 2nd review of this film. I just read your first one that you did in 2010. You were a bit more lukewarm in the first one giving it a 3.5/5. It's interesting apparently how your take on the movie has somehow gotten better : ) Maybe it is the Arrow release, IDK... Just thought that was interesting since both reviews are posted as External Reviews on IMDB.