Review by Kim Hollis
November 9, 2005
Known as Kairo in its native Japan, this Kiyoshi Kurosawa film exemplifies the Asian horror style that has emerged in recent years even as it flies in the face of it. A number of the camera techniques that have become typical of the genre are employed, yet the director uses a subtle method of storytelling that is so clever, you practically don't realize what is happening until it's actually upon you.
The movie is told in two parallel story lines. The first is that of Michi (Kumiko Aso), who goes to check on a co-worker who has been absent and is an integral part of a project. She asks him if everything is okay, to which he blandly replies that it is; however, he goes into another room and proves that his situation is anything but fine.
Meanwhile, a young man named Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato) has just finally given into the siren call of that addictive thing known as the Internet. Naturally distrustful of computers, he nonetheless nonchalantly flips in the disc to get everything started up. Soon, after being baffled by some bizarre messages on his screen, he gets the message, "Do you want to meet a ghost?" He freaks out, of course, turning the computer off and leaving it - he thinks - in the pile of bad ideas that have probably accumulated throughout his life. Trouble is, while Kawashima is sleeping, it decides to go ahead and turn itself back on and dial right back into the creepy Web site that freaked him out in the first place. He turns to a female computer expert named Harue (played by Japanese actress Koyuki) for assistance. The only thing that is clear is that there seems to be some (real) ghosts in the machine who are wreaking havoc on the lives of those with whom they come into contact.
Things continue to get stranger and stranger. At Michi's place of employment, her co-workers start to display various odd behaviors. Meanwhile, Kawashima is having eerie experiences of his own. It all ultimately leads to Michi and Kawashima's paths crossing. They join together to try to escape a fate that will come as a surprise even to those who know the basic premise of the film.
I should probably point out that for viewers who like their horror fast-paced and filled with quick thrills and jump-inducing scenes, Pulse is not going to be their kind of film. It unfolds at a languorous pace, which can be extremely aggravating. As I watched the film, I just kept wanting something - anything - to happen. But then, a realization started coming over me. The director, Kurosawa, is cleverly and deliberately developing a very specific story. He's not going to hit you over the head with the end result. He wants smart people to be able to have the sudden "aha" moment where everything pieces together and understand that the pieces to the puzzle have been there all along. As such, I can say that the final 20 minutes of Pulse in particular are among the most intense and creepy I have seen. It's an ingenious technique, though the payoff may be more in repeated viewings than on first sight.
While it is certainly a challenging film, Pulse offers rewards at the end that make the almost lethargic pacing worth sitting through. With a North American remake forthcoming in the next six months featuring Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell, it will be fascinating to see if it can maintain the same sense of subtlety and ingenuity. Though I love Bell, I'm betting not.