Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Starring Haruhiko Katô, Kumiko Asô, Koyuki, and Kurume Arisaka.
After a computer programmer commits suicide his friends start to experience strange happenings through their computers.
Arrow Video delve back into their vault of millennial J-horror with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 cult favourite Pulse, a morose meditation on isolation, death and its impact on those left behind through the filter of the dawning internet age. Like many Japanese horror movies Pulse has two main plotlines running through it, the first being a story about a worker at a plant shop who has been missing for a few days after reportedly working on a computer disc. When one of his colleagues goes to visit him to see what has happened he hangs himself, prompting his friends to look at what he has been working on and discovering disturbing images on his computer.
The second story sees a student having problems with his computer as a website featuring images of people alone in a room doing weird things to themselves keeps flashing up on his screen. He enlists the help of a post-graduate computer student to try and work out what is going on but the pair discover that their combined knowledge cannot stop the images appearing and that some of the mysterious students they keep seeing around the campus may not actually be real people.
So there are two intertwining stories with similar themes and ideas and a couple of characters that connect the two together at the very end, and whilst this may all sound quite enticing and thrilling given that J-horror was quite the thing in mainstream horror back in the early 21st century the actual result is a film that is both startling in its quest to convey atmosphere – which is does tremendously well – and also dull in its reliance upon it. It goes without saying that the level of technical quality in the movie is very high, with said atmosphere maintained throughout by some very effective photography and creepy imagery that many Japanese filmmakers seem to knock out in their sleep, but there is a coldness that comes with such ambition that the storytelling does not seem to be able to lift, making it a frustrating watch as the chilling mood promises much but the script just does not deliver.
With some beautiful sound edits – a surround sound system works wonders for a few scenes of ghostly whispering that comes from all corners of the room at various times – and the look of a washed-out J-horror torture porn without the gore, Pulse has some genuinely unsettling moments and interesting ideas about loneliness and how ghosts communicate with the living but the film never gains any sort of momentum and the artful ideas just don’t develop into anything that is worth sitting through the two-hour runtime for. Coming from a time when Ringu and Ju-on: The Grudge were taking the mainstream by storm and the likes of Dark Water and One Missed Call offered up genuine thrills and chills, watching Pulse now puts into perspective some of the more negative aspects of J-horror – style over substance, overlong running times, disjointed narratives and snail-like pacing being the major ones – and although collectors will likely look to make this upgrade from their old DVD editions, especially as there are some brand new interviews with various crew members and celebrity fans in the special features, there isn’t really anything to recommend Pulse those uninitiated in J-horror and only really the technical aspects of the filmmaking to those that are.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★