Just in time to get the jump on the American remake (due in theaters on July 14, 2006), Pulse (also known as Kaïro, which might better translate as "circuit") is getting the deluxe treatment on DVD from Magnolia Pictures.
Pulse is a name that's been around for awhile — there's a horror movie from1988 called that, which is about a family who's terrorized by a force that can turn televisions, computers, microwave ovens and even the clothes dryer into deadly weapons. There is also a 2002 movie starring Madeline Stowe, which is about a mother searching for her daughter who's been seduced by a dangerous cult; this movie was, incidentally, co-directed by Kaïro's director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
The 2001 Japanese film, Kaïro/Pulse, is the one that's most-revered by fans in some circles. It's also a love-it or hate-it kind of movie. Some find it pulse-pounding, while others might be so bored they will have to check to make sure they still have a pulse by the time it's all over. I'm sorry to say that I fall into the latter camp.
Pulse follows the familiar, listless tread of J-horror's most common touchstones: technology is a conduit for evil; ghostly girls always have long, black hair that they like to hold out at arm's length; and everybody's apartment is greenish, grayish, dingy and dreary.
After one of their coworkers commits suicide, strange things begin happening to a trio of nursery employees in Tokyo. Meanwhile, an internet-ignorant college student and a computer instructor become preoccupied with a website that asks, "Would you like to meet a ghost?" The question is, will they meet the spirit of the suicidal nursery worker… or somebody with evil intent? Once more and more people start disappearing, will the world eventually disappear into the apocalyptic ghostly vortex?
By the time the answers got around to getting revealed, I no longer cared. Perhaps I am simply predisposed to not liking Pulse because I still haven't forgiven Kurosawa for the dreadful Doppelganger.
I can appreciate some of the good points about Pulse; the acting is above average, and the story — which is really more a commentary on the isolation technology brings to modern society than it is a tale of outright haunting — is a good one. The ghosts aren't simply there to scare (though at least one "scare" would have been welcome), they are there to present the theory that perhaps there is no heaven or hell… just an awful purgatory of lost soils (yep, that's right: You die, you become a stain on a wall, or an oil slick on the pavement).
For more visually appealing, gory, interesting, original and thought-provoking J-horror, I recommend Marebito and especially Vital.
The DVD includes a "Making of" featurette, and the original theatrical trailer. (I'm also compelled to point out the annoying fact that Magnolia Pictures has made it impossible to skip over or fast-forward through the trailers for other films and the advertisement for HD; had I bought and paid for this DVD, I probably would have returned it for that reason. We should be able to choose whether or not we want to views ads and trailers.)
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson