Pulse (2001 film)
|Directed by||Kiyoshi Kurosawa|
|Produced by||Ken Inoue
|Written by||Kiyoshi Kurosawa|
|Music by||Takefumi Haketa|
|Editing by||Jun'ichi Kikuchi|
|Distributed by||Toho Company|
|Release date(s)||10 February 2001|
|Running time||118 minutes|
Pulse, known in Japan as Kairo (回路), is a 2001 Japanese horror film directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The film is based on his novel of the same name. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. The movie was well-received critically and holds a cult following. An American remake, also titled Pulse, debuted in 2006 and spawned two sequels.
The plot centers on ghosts invading the world of the living via the Internet. The film is a philosophical exploration into the alienation and loneliness of modern existence due to technology. Communication breakdown and isolation are the main themes of the film. The film features two parallel story lines.
The first storyline involves a young woman named Kudo Michi (Kumiko Aso) who works at a plant sales company. She has recently moved to the city and her main friends are her three colleagues, Sasano Junko, Toshio Yabe and Taguchi. At the start of the film, it appears Taguchi has been missing for some days working on a computer disk. Michi goes to visit his apartment and finds him distracted and aloof; in the middle of their conversation, he casually makes a noose out of a length of rope, goes into another room, and hangs himself. Michi and her colleagues ponder why Taguchi committed suicide but cannot find any answers. Inspecting the computer disk he left behind, they discover it contains an image of Taguchi staring at his own computer monitor, which is displaying an image of Taguchi staring at his computer monitor, creating an endless series of images. Zooming in on a dormant monitor beside Taguchi's primary monitor, Michi and her friends discover a ghostly face staring out into Taguchi's room, though he appears to be alone. Yabe later receives a phone-call that seems to be of Taguchi saying "Help me", over and over, so he goes to his deceased colleague's apartment and sees a ghostly black image imprinted on the wall where Taguchi died. Nearby, he notices a door sealed up with red tape. Entering it, Yabe encounters a ghost who corners him in the room. Yabe shows up at work later that day depressed, uncommunicative, and ultimately takes to hiding in his apartment. When Michi finally goes to check on him, she discovers that he has dissolved into a black mark on the wall similar to the one that appeared when Taguchi died. Michi and Junko are soon alone at work; their boss has also disappeared. Doors with red tape are cropping up all over Tokyo. When Junko enters one of them, she is attacked by a ghost. Michi rescues her, but the encounter proves too traumatic for Junko, who begins having a nervous breakdown and, having lost the will to live, dissolves into ash.
The other storyline features Ryosuke (Haruhiko Katô), an economics student who has recently signed up to a new Internet Service Provider. Once he successfully accesses the internet, his computer accesses a website by itself, showing him a series of disturbing images of people alone in dark rooms, either stationary or exhibiting bizarre, depressed behavior. At the end of the series of images is a black screen with the text, "Do you want to meet a ghost?" That night, Ryosuke wakes up to find his computer again accessing the internet on its own; the site now shows a man seated in a swivel chair with his face obscured by shadows, who soon moves away and is replaced by a man with a plastic bag over his head. Before he pulls it off, Ryosuke unplugs his computer in panic. The next day he asks a fellow student for advice; Harue Karasawa (Koyuki), a computer expert, overhears this conversation and suggests he either bookmark the page or print the images for her to examine. Ryosuke attempts to follow her advice the next time his computer accesses the internet itself, but finds that it will not follow his commands. Ryosuke watches as a video begins to play of a man with a plastic bag on his head standing in a room with the words "HELP ME" written over and over again on the walls. Ryosuke gets in touch with Harue again, but she is unable to come up with an explanation. While consulting her, he watches a computer simulation of life in Japan. Numerous dots float around a black void, almost never touching. If the dots come too close together, they are destroyed, but moving too far away from another dot compels them towards one another. A fellow student, Yoshizaki, mentions the appearance of ghostly looking people around campus and explains his theory that the place where souls go to is full and that they have begun to invade the physical world.
Harue begins exhibiting strange, depressive behavior. She begins talking to Ryosuke of death and ghosts; she says that she has always wondered what death is like, but was hindered in her efforts to find out because she was afraid that the afterlife is a place of eternal loneliness. Ryosuke insists that she try to live in the moment, and posits that he would prefer to think about living on eternally. Harue suggests that ghosts would want to save humans from the loneliness of the afterlife by bestowing immortality on them; she believes that this would be accomplished by "trapping them [humans] in their loneliness".
Ryosuke returns to Harue's home later that night to find her acting even stranger; he takes her away from her apartment and the two try to escape to a faraway place using the subway. However, the train suddenly stops while aboveground. Harue is seized by a desire to return to her apartment; she deflects Rosuke's resistance and flees. Upon returning to her apartment, she discovers a new camera angle available on the website Rosuke found at the start of the film; it is pointed directly at her from a room in her apartment. Though there is no physical camera present, she walks directly to the spot from which the signal is sent and claims that she is "not alone". When Rosuke bursts into her apartment later, she is gone.
As more and more people begin to vanish, evacuations of Tokyo begin. Michi goes to a local shop, which is empty, save for a ghostly man lurking behind the counter. Ryosuke visits a video arcade, which is packed with other people, but when he goes there a few days later it is empty, apart from an apparition. Harue vanishes, and Ryosuke drifts aimlessly around a desolate Tokyo, where he meets Michi, whose car has broken down. They try to find Harue. She turns up in an abandoned factory where she shoots herself in front of them. They drive away, but not before Ryosuke stops to obtain fuel and wanders through a door sealed up with red tape. He encounters a ghost who explains that "death was eternal loneliness". Ryosuke seemingly loses the will to live, and Michi has to drag him to safety. They drive through a burning Tokyo, encountering numerous apocalyptic scenes : the sky turns black, a JASDF C-130 cargo plane crashes out of the sky, and people leap to their deaths from tall buildings. The pair finally find a ship about to depart Tokyo, crewed by a small group of survivors who tell them that similar events are happening all over the world. As the ship heads for Latin America, Ryosuke and Michi go below deck, where Ryosuke disintegrates into ash.
- Kumiko Aso as Michi Kudo
- Haruhiko Kato as Ryosuke Kawashima
- Koyuki as Harue Karasawa
- Kurume Arisaka as Junko Sasano
- Masatoshi Matsuo as Toshio Yabe
- Shinji Takeda as Yoshizaki
- Jun Fubuki as Michi's mother
- Koji Yakusho as ship captain
- Show Aikawa as employee
Critical reception 
Allmovie praised the film, writing "The first 30 minutes of Kairo is perhaps some of the most unnerving, frightening sequences to come down the pike in a long time." Anita Gates of The New York Times wrote, "There are very few moments in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's fiercely original, thrillingly creepy horror movie that don't evoke a dreamlike dread of the truly unknown." Slant Magazine gave the film four stars out of four, writing "Kurosawa's movies have a genuinely unnerving effect on the viewer because they deal with the kind of loneliness that exists in an overcrowded world. [...] Pulse is his strongest elucidation of this theme, treating the world wide web as a literal snare forging sinewy connections between strangers where the ultimate destination is chaos." The Guardian called it "an incredibly creepy horror film" that, in the same way as Ring, "finds chills in the most dingy and mundane of locales; skiful deployment of grisly little moments and disturbing, cryptic imagery produce the requisite mood of dread and gloom." Film Threat wrote, "What's worse than a horror film that frightens you sleepless is one that disturbs you to depression." The Washington Post commented, "Pulse is best enjoyed if it's not questioned too closely. It lives visually in a way it cannot live intellectually".
Entertainment Weekly was critical of the film, writing "Watching Pulse [...] you could almost die of anticipation", commenting that "nothing in the two snail-paced hours [...] makes close to a shred of sense". The Seattle Times criticized the film's storyline and length, writing "While it's rattling your nerves, Pulse leaves your brain wanting more", and Village Voice called the film "at least half an hour too long".
- "Festival de Cannes: Kairo". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- Scott Tobias (19 November 2008). "The New Cult Canon: Pulse". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- "Pulse (Kairo) (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Jonathan Crow. "Pulse (2001)". Allmovie. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Jeremiah Kipp (20 June 2005). "Pulse". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Andrew Pulver (3 February 2006). "Pulse". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Styna Chyn (29 June 2005). "Kairo". Film Threat. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Stephen Hunter (23 November 2005). "'Pulse': A Quiet Game of Doom". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Owen Glieberman (16 November 2005). "Pulse". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Jeff Shannon (2 December 2005). ""Pulse": The IT gods help us". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- J. Hoberman (1 November 2005). "Feardotcom". Village Voice. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Christley, Jaime N (2012). "Jaime N Christley - BFI - British Film Institute". Sight & Sound.
- Official website
- Pulse at the Internet Movie Database
- Pulse at AllRovi
- Pulse at Rotten Tomatoes
- Pulse at the Japanese Movie Database (Japanese)