Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Kumiko Aso, Koyuki
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: When plant shop employee Taguci has not shown up for work in a couple of days, his colleague Kudo calls by his apartment to investigate. Kudo finds the apartment unkept and his cat on the verge of death, but Taguici is there, although distracted and distant. As Kudo investigates the apartment further, she discovers that Taguici has hung himself while she was distracted. A floppy disk found in the apartment reveals a terrifying secret.
After a fantastic week of rolling back the years for 3 excellent classic horror films, we move into week 3 of this month’s spooky season schedule. The sole focus for this week is foreign language horror, basically horror films outside the English language and the traditional Hollywood standard. Horror as a genre transcends language, and each country has its own history of myths and legends with a terrifying twist. Typically, I tend to enjoy foreign horror as each culture has their own approach and temperaments as to what makes our skin crawl and keeps us up at night. The first entry for foreign horror week is the much loved Japanese supernatural film, Pulse.
Japanese horror or J Horror is one of the most revered sub cultures of the genre which has seen many of their classic films remade or adapted to Hollywood. Japanese culture has a strong sense of identity and links to their history with a wealth of mythology. Even outside horror, Japanese filmmaking stands out above other countries’ efforts because of their creativity, willingness to push boundaries, and explore grander themes than Hollywood would be accustomed to. While Ringu & Ju-On: The Grudge are the most famous examples of J Horror, Pulse is my personal favourite.
Bit of a bold statement above considering I’ve only seen Pulse for the first time 3 days ago but I’ve already had to revisit it and cannot stop thinking about it. Every scare in this film landed way harder than I expected or wanted. I could feel shivers and my skin was crawling because every moment is so carefully composed to unnerve, shock, and trap you in a moment that’s not afraid to drag out for maximum effort. A particular scene of a ghost slowly descending upon one of the central characters has no jump scare, screeching music, or sudden camera cuts because the moment is shot so eerily effectively, it doesn’t need to rely on these manipulative tropes to have your heart racing.
Fear of loneliness and unable to connect with others is the central terror of Pulse. This need to connect attracts victims to suspect websites that open up a gateway to the realm of the deceased who infect the living with a deep depression and dismay that leads to their demise. For a film made in 2001 when the internet was still a fledgling medium for exploration and gathering data. The irony of connecting to the wider world actually resulting in isolation and disappointment seems scarily relevant to the now known consequences of social media and chat forums and their effect on mental health.
The cinematographer behind Ringu and Dark Water, Junichiro Hayashi, again puts his stamp on another classic J horror, invoking a decaying and rundown setting choke full of dread and inevitability. Special effects are kept at a minimum for more practical scares, aided by a haunting soundtrack. Relying on subtlety and a slow burn narrative, Pulse nevertheless remains terrifying with an abundance of scares and nail biting scenes.
Not as well received in the western world as Ringu or Dark Water, Pulse has over time garnered much more respect for its creepy ambience, deep themes of loneliness, and an ahead-of-its-time study of finding real connections via the internet. A simple summary of the internet becoming a doorway for ghosts and spectres might sound like a plot to a mid-2000’s John Cusack movie, but Japanese horror goes far beyond gimmicky concepts for broader themes and more chilling subject matter. Basically, watch Pulse if you haven’t seen it and avoid the American remake at all costs.
This review is a part of this month’s focus on horror films as part of Halloween season. You can find the full schedule, along with weekly subgenre and previous reviews here.
Rating: 5 / 5 Shots of Saki