Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Starring Haruhiko Kato, Kumiko Aso, Koyuki

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Death. It’s the building block of the horror genre. No matter what the subject, every film comes back to that one basic fear. And why not? Nothing scares us more than the uncertainty of the grave.

Pulse (aka Kairo) is a film that takes that fear one step further.

Produced in the wake of the Ring phenomenon, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 apocolyptic masterpiece was unfairly lost in the import shuffle before landing in the grubby hands of Miramax, where it was promptly shelved to pave the way for their upcoming remake (God help us) and give Harvey Weinstein a bigger bonus in his paycheck. Thankfully, Magnolia Pictures has swooped in to save the day after the studio’s much-publicized split and fans everywhere finally have a chance to see one of horror’s greatest unsung films.

Pulse concerns a rash of suicides that seem to revolve around a strange internet site called “The Forbidden Room.” Visitors are greated with eerie static web-cam images and begin to exhibit awkward and reclusive behavior soon after logging on. When a friend hangs himself in his apartment, a group of youngsters decide to investigate and stumble onto ghostly forces which are spreading at a global rate.

Kurosawa expertly fuses Japan’s tech-based fears with his own avant-garde style and weaves a surreal nightmare that slowly caves in on the viewer. Using abandoned locales, ambient sound effects, and subtle creep-outs, this film has an atmosphere thick enough to insulate your house. The effect is like roaming through a twisted industrial maze where the dead lurk around every corner.

While it may sound akin to countless Asian horrors, the story offers much more than long-haired ghosts skulking through the shadows. Rather than serving up traditional “vengeful spirits” or “death curse countdowns” the hauntings act as a complex allegory for isolation and loneliness in the age of technology. The internet’s ethereal images slowly bleed into the real world, as sanity collapses and reality crumbles away to reveal the ultimate dark truth. When all is said and done, the scariest aspect of Pulse isn’t the ghosts themselves, but what they represent.

Typically, Kurosawa’s abstract narrative offers little in the way of explanation and will leave most casual viewers scratching their scalps. But those looking for cerebral terror will be enraptured, both by its creepy, deliberate style and introspective subtext. Even now, when ghost stories have oversaturated the genre, Pulse holds up as a true J-horror classic and – dare I say it – one of the scariest films of all time.

5 out of 5

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Steve Barton

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