Friday, July 14, 2006
  DVD Review: Kairo (Pulse)

Kairo (Or, in English, Pulse) is the kind of movie that creeps up on you like late afternoon shadows. It’s darkness is real… it’s threats are always implied, never explicit, but always authentic. As the movie progresses and it’s shadows grow longer, you might find yourself trying to figure out just what it is about the movie that scares you so badly… and if it’s something you’ve actually always been afraid of in the real world as well. This is one smart, scary film.

I intentionally tried to employ shadows as a literary device in that first paragraph because director Kiyoshi Kurosawa employees them with great effect in this film. The scares in Pulse don’t come from things that we really quite see… but they don’t come from things that are entirely hidden from us, either. The unsettling images in Pulse are always things that are half-hidden… such as the woman in the dark corner who is slowly walking closer, further into a light she’ll share with the viewer. Or the silhouette that we think we might have seen out of the corner of our eye, moving from one dark spot to another. Or, in one truly memorable scene, a darkness full of sinister potential just beyond a half-opened door.

Other images from the film were surprisingly moving on an emotional level. The ghosts we see in Pulse aren’t like the ghosts in any other horror film I can think of. Instead, they’re simply shadows, left stained on the walls and floors in the exact spot where some poor soul decided that life wasn’t worth the trouble. One scene involving a suicide by way of leaping from a height literally caused my heart to jump into my throat. Late in the movie there’s a scene involving the crash of an airplane that is at once stark, depressing, and strangely beautiful. Visually, this movie really excels.

This isn’t just a movie that works because of good visual elements, though. Pulse is a movie with smart, worthwhile ideas. The darkness in this film, a darkness that seems to be swallowing people whole, is spread like a computer virus through electronic equipment. Computers and the internet are particularly good conduits, and the darkness that issues from the PCs in the movie is truly imposing. Sometimes it consumes people slowly. Others go willingly in seeming acts of suicide. Either way, the darkness becomes something that everyone who encounters finds irresistible. If you don’t jump in with both feet, you simply sit still and let it enfold you in it’s own time.

Of course, the symbolism is obvious. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s theme is unavoidable. Our electronic culture is causing us to disengage from each other, to intentionally abandon real, meaningful contact and to simply plug into an imaginary world where we can disappear with ease. On the internet, we’re all who we want to be. Freed of the boundaries imposed by the tangible world, on the internet each of us can move fluidly and change ethereally. Thanks to the internet, each of us has option to stop being a person, to start being a ghost. Sunlight is harsh. Darkness consoles us. It’s a choice that many of us make without even realizing it.

If the ghostly elements of Pulse don’t make the theme clear enough for you, there’s one scene wherein the intent is so obvious that it’s as though Kurosawa is literally spelling it out for you. One of the characters who’s disappeared into the darkness has left behind a computer program of his own design… a computer program wherein dots move across the screen at random. The dots can’t come too close to each other without losing their individuality and disappearing. Yet they can’t go too far away from each other without fading. They crave a contact that they spend their lives trying to avoid. We are the dots. The dots are us. There’s no denying the movie’s message.

My complaints with Pulse don’t outweigh my praise. The movie does drag toward the end. The last 45 minutes or so of the film should probably have been cut down to 20 minutes. I was also frustrated by the way the film changed focus from one seemingly primary character to another on at least two occasions.

There is an American remake of Pulse coming out this month. It’s going to suck, you know that. I encourage you to rent the original Japanese film and avoid the American studio’s attempt to cash in. Like The Ring and The Grudge, the American version of Pulse is just bound to suck.

In some ways, Pulse reminded me of a cross between 28 Days Later and The Matrix, if you can imagine such a thing. Both of those movies share with Pulse themes of alienation and the loss of individuality. All three movies are about fear of a kind of absorption that robs you of real life. Nonetheless, Pulse is sad and thoughtful, where as the other two movies were action-packed and fast-paced. Pulse doesn’t deliver it’s themes with a scream. It’s more like a sad, lonely whisper. It’s surprising how much that whisper resonated with me for days after I’d seen the movie.

It's resonating with me and I haven't seen it. Going to hae to though---Dave loves that kind of movie.
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