Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pulse (K. Kurosawa, 2001)

Although it has been lumped in with other recent Japanese horror films such as The Grudge and Ringu, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse is something else entirely. You wouldn’t know it from the premise which involves a deadly curse that seems to be spreading via the internet; however, Pulse is no mere gimmick film. On the contrary, it is a somber, serious exploration of postmodern emptiness. Upon an initial viewing, there is still much about the events in Pulse that I am not sure I completely understand. This much is clear. Each of the characters affected by the curse turn on their computers to find a website that offers a view of someone else’s existence. It is as if they are peering into a webcam, although we learn that there is no physical reason why these visions should be transmitted. The person they spy upon is invariably in a state of severe distress. However, there is no apparent way for the two parties to communicate. Afterwards, the viewer grows sullen and goes through a few various stages before disappearing completely. It is important to note that the victims are interconnected, with one incident linking into another.

I fear that I have made the film sound like the very thing it is not. It is not awkwardly goofy, nor a film in which the actions seem contrived and forced to produce artificial scares. On the contrary, Kurosawa has done an effective job of painting an ever-so-slightly exaggerated version of our own world in which increased connection only leads to more profound feelings of loneliness. With the explosion of the internet, most of has within our homes a portal which allows us to interact with the outside world without even getting out of our pajamas. Even the dial-up sound that Kurosawa uses in key places here is quickly becoming a thing of the past as more and more of us switch to a connection that is ‘always on’. The question is whether or not this development has led to a populace that is in fact more disconnected from meaningful human interaction. With increased efficiency comes more time for us to be left alone with our own thoughts and insecurities. The moments of horror in Pulse are not cheap thrills in which someone is in danger of being hacked to pieces. That, after all, is an experience few of us are likely to encounter. The horror is something much more unsettling. It is the terror of our unavoidable mortality, the terror of human uncertainty, the terror of being alone.

Kurosawa succeeds by resisting the typical rhythms of the modern horror film. He does not try to scare us through ‘gotcha’ surprises. He allows the fear to seep slowly into us. He does not offer clumsy exposition followed by tiresome explanations. He allows his world to be much like our own – mysterious from start to finish. In the end, surrounded by chaos and uncertainty, two characters arrive at the only reasonable strategy: keep going as long as possible. This conclusion may seem somewhat non-committal for some; however, it ensures that Kurosawa’s film will latch onto us and linger. Whereas so many horror films are forgotten as soon as the lights come up, Pulse has an energy and an impact that extends well beyond the closing credits.



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