Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Haruhiko Kato, Kumiko Aso & Koyuki
Synopsis: Two groups of people discover evidence that suggests spirits may be trying to invade the human world through the Internet.
Rating: 15 Duration: 115 minutes Release date: 10 July (UK)

There are many things to admire about Asian cinema, but what they are perhaps most famous for are their cult horror films. Films like Ringu, Audition and Ju-on: The Grudge are three choice films that were made during Asian horror’s golden age from the late 90’s until the early 2000’s. This was a time when technology was still relatively new to all, and the use of such things was not as commonplace as it is now. The idea of a VHS tape bringing death to those who view it is as dated now as it is perhaps laughable too. Pulse is one such film to have struck during Asian horror’s heyday and is perhaps more notable now than it was back in 2001, and has that unique gift of being both eerily foreshadowing and genuinely scary.

Back in 2001 technology was an industry on the cusp and its use was far less widespread than it is today. VHS tapes were on the way out and DVD’s were on their way into people’s lives. Mobile phones still had buttons and the advent of technology was as curious as it was scary, leading to ridiculous speculation such as the Y2K bug. Films like The Matrix fed audiences a line on the dangers of computers and in true Terminator style showed us a world where they had become self-aware. It was blockbuster entertainment, but pushed the idea to the nth degree. Pulse, on the other hand, showed us something a lot more sinister and a lot more believable. Here, with computers finding their way into more homes, came the idea that people would no longer seek social gratification and the idea of communicating would instead be done through computer screens on message boards and forums. Now, 16 years later and the ideas discussed in Pulse are even more real.

As two stories unfold in Pulse, the viewer is brought into a world where ghosts are entering the physical world through the internet. It’s a plot device that may well sound like it’s on the wrong side of crazy, but director Kiyoshi Kurosawa portrays his idea with a sense of dignity and realism that allows the film to work emotionally as well as being truly chilling when it wants to be. There are moments in Pulse that are truly iconic. Simple things in theory, but executed with such aplomb; such as a still computer screen with a ghostly face staring back, the crooked voice on the phone saying “help me” or the use of red tape around a door way to mark a “forbidden room” have the hallmarks of classic horror.

Indeed, the film does have moments that can detract a little. Some moments appear ropey, while some of the acting can be hit and miss a times and it’s debatable whether the film could lose half an hour from its 115 minute run time. Nevertheless, nothing can take away from the sheer level of dread and foreboding sense that we are all truly up shit creek if we allow ourselves to be overtaken by technology.

For a horror film, Pulse is incredibly smart, and this is something that we do not get with enough horror films. It does not so much wish to subvert the genre, but it is bloody good at what it does. It explores themes such as death and loneliness in a way that doesn’t get diagnosed enough in cinema, which is odd because horror is the perfect genre to look at these aspects of life that we all suffer from at one time or another. Friendship is also another key value in Pulse and straight from the off when young Taguchi commits suicide while his friend is in the other room, we know we are dealing with a film that will not take its subject matter lightly. It’s both incredibly touching and intensely dramatic without being crude in its perception of how people can struggle through life.

Pulse works because it depicts very real fears into an otherwise unreal setting. The b-movie attitude of The Matrix is foregone for a far more down to earth approach, regarding the handle that technology has gripped us with and how now, more than ever we need to step away from such things and try to live a little more in the world beyond our computer screens.

Special features:

  • 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
  • Archive making of documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
  • Trailers and TV spots

Film: 4/5
Extras: 4/5

Advertisements