The year was 2001 and internet was still in its infancy stage. High speed wasn’t around, and dial-up was your only choice. If that wasn’t bad enough, you also had to deal with ghosts travelling through the lines, infecting your computer and making you all moppy, eventually turning you into a black spot on the wall.
Pulse, known as Kairo in Japan, is a supernatural horror film that takes the Ghost in the Machine story we all know and love, and sprinkles in their wacky Japanese flair that we’ve come to copy and mimic. We have long haired ghosts, who just want to be loved and not alone. That’s the heart of the story of Pulse. We are all alone, we will die alone, and even after we are dead, we will still be alone. Man, this movie is a downer.
Award-winning filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa delivered one of the finest entries in the “J-Horror” cycle of films with this moody and spiritually terrifying film that delivers existential dread along with its frights. Setting his story in the burgeoning internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives.
A group of young people in Tokyo begin to experience strange phenomena involving missing co-workers and friends, technological breakdown, and a mysterious website which asks the compelling question, “Do you want to meet a ghost?” After the unexpected suicides of several friends, three strangers set out to explore a city which is growing more empty by the day, and to solve the mystery of what lies within a forbidden room in an abandoned construction site, mysteriously sealed shut with red packing tape.
Featuring haunting cinematography by Junichiro Hayashi (Ring, Dark Water), a dark and unsettling tone which lingers long after the movie is over, and an ahead-of-its-time story which anticipates 21st century disconnection and social media malaise, Pulse is one of the greatest and most terrifying achievements in modern Japanese horror, and a dark mirror for our contemporary digital world.
Pulse takes a simple story and tries its hardest to make it a completely messed up, confusing mess and boy, does it succeed. I lost count how many times I was wondering what the hell was happening. Characters come and go, people die randomly, and product placement for red construction tape runs rampant. I wish I could tell you what the movie is about, but I just can’t comprehend it, and according to several reviews on IMDb, I am not alone.
Now, I know the gist of the story, as I previously mentioned above. Ghosts are spilling over into our world, using the dial-up internet to infect people’s computers. These beings are tricking people into visiting a website that will ask them if they want to see a ghost. If they do see the ghost, they become sad, scared, depressed and believe they will be alone forever. This feeling of being alone creates a depression spiral for people everywhere until eventually, they fade away into a black stain. Why these people fade away, I have no idea.
After most have disappeared, we are left hanging out with Ryosuke Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) and Michi Kudo ( Kumiko Asô), who come together after having spent the majority of the movie in their own separate, albeit utterly confusing storylines. The two hatch a plan to survive, but will they make it out of whatever the heck is going on? Honestly, I have no sweet clue.
Arrow Video has released Pulse on Blu-ray, using an HD Master that was provided to them. The quality of the transfer isn’t going to win awards, but it also isn’t the worst transfer I’ve seen. The grain is heavy at times and film can be pretty dark and hard to make out what’s happening, but it’s most likely the best the movie has ever looked. The same goes for the audio presentation, with a Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles. It’s a bit on the weak side at times, but nothing a bit volume up won’t fix.
The real treat for buying this Blu-ray comes in the form of special features. We have numerous interviews, with the Kiyoshi Kurosawa interview stretching into the 40-minute mark. We have also been provided with an archive making of featurette that also runs over 40 minutes long. If you happen to love the movie, the special features are going to be keeping you busy for several hours. The only thing missing is an audio commentary.
I honestly can’t tell you if I hated Pulse or just didn’t understand it. There are moments of brilliance and genuine scares to be had, but I just can’t help but remember the staggering amount of times I was confused. The film hardly explains anything, and when it does try, it comes off as something completely asinine.
But honestly, this is just my useless opinion and who cares about that, right? If you want to know whether you should buy the Blu-ray if you’re a fan of the film, you most certainly should as it has all the special features you would want.
- 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
DISCS: 2 (1 Blu-ray, 1 DVD)
RUN-TIME: 119 min
ASPECT RATIO: 1.78:1
AUDIO: LPCM 2.0
PRODUCTION DATE: 2001