Monday 31 July 2017

PULSE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Profound Kurosawa J-Horror Classic gets Arrow Blu-Ray

Now I'm alone
with my last friend in the world
and I have found happiness.

Pulse/Kairo (2001)
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Kumiko Aso, Haruhiko Kato, Koyuki, Kurume Arisaka, Koji Yakusho

Review By Greg Klymkiw

About 15 years ago I saw Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. It's stayed with me these many long years. I just finished watching the Arrow Films Blu-ray. I hadn't seen the movie since it scared the living shit out of me first-run on the big screen in 2002 and this recent viewing was like seeing it for the first time. Upon its conclusion and for some time afterwards I continued to shudder and weep. Not only because of the content of the movie, its profundity and deeply moving qualities, but because I felt so grateful that cinema exists to have afforded a genuine artist like Kurosawa the opportunity to unleash it upon us. And of course, when I see a picture this great, it reminds me, yet again, that I love cinema so very, very much. No matter how bad movies are these days, work like this exists and can continue to be made in spite of everything going against the medium now.

Pulse (aka Kairo) is a ghost story, but unlike any ever made. It deals with the notion that there's no more room in that place whereever the spirits of the dead go and now they are crossing over into our world, our living world. As people slowly begin to realize what's happening, it causes mass despair because what the ghosts communicate to the living is that death is eternal loneliness. People in the billions begin to commit suicide.

We follow two people who eventually find each other and realize that the only way they can survive is to be with each other, to never be alone. Of course, it takes some time and plenty of creepy and often downright shocking scares for this to happen.

Michi (Kumiko Aso) works in a plant shop. One of her co-workers has been missing for days. She goes to investigate and what she witnesses is ghastly. Her other co-workers become afflicted with a depressive malaise and she's eventually left to fend for herself.

Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) is a university student who signs up for the internet (when the film was made, remember these were still relatively early days for the world wide web) and he discovers something online that's both ghoulish and more than a little disturbing. He befriends Harue (Koyuki), a computer science student, to help him get to the bottom of this ominous mystery. What they slowly begin to discover is truly shuddersome.

Yes, Michi and Kawashima's stories converge and as Tokyo's population dwindles to virtually nothing, they find each other. As Tokyo burns, covered with a thick, soupy haze (at one point, a flaming jet crashes into the middle of the city) they flee, pledging to go as far as they can go.

Throughout the film, Kurosawa assails us with moaning, wailing, desperate apparitions. A strange website called "The Forbidden Room" offers curious advice involving red duct tape (never has red duct tape been as hair-raisingly nightmarish as it is here). Recently departed humans turn into grim ectoplasmic black shadows on walls, floors and sidewalks (creepily conjuring images of similar shadows after the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings). At times we hear these shadows crying out, "Help me." All of this is delivered with a slow, macabre pace. dread ever-mounting.

At one point, it's explained:

"Ghosts won't kill people, because that would just make more ghosts. Instead they will try to make people immortal by quietly trapping them in their own loneliness."

This provides little solace to both the viewer and the characters.

Pulse has a truly unique look via cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi (gorgeously captured on the Arrow Films' Blu-Ray). Film grain is readily apparent and dances upon the screen ever-so delectably. The colour palette is made up of greys, pale browns and sickeningly bleached greens. Shadows and darkness run rampant - at times it seems like we can see virtually nothing, but shots will hold long enough to reveal tiny dollops of light and detail.

Kurosawa presents a world of loneliness, disconnection and deep, numbing and increasing pain. To say the film is prescient, would be an understatement. And yes, Pulse moves us to tears. When a character eventually declares:

"Now I'm alone with my last friend in the world and I have found happiness;"

We simply don't believe it. We can't.


Pulse/Kairo is available on a tremendous Special Edition from Arrow Films (this company is truly the Criterion Collection of genre cinema). It includes a High Definition digital transfer on Blu-ray (1080p) and a Standard Definition DVD, the Original 5.1 audio (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray), 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 (Blair Witch, You’re Next), an Archival ‘Making of’ documentary, four archival behind-the-scenes featurettes, Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival, Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo, Trailers and TV Spots.