Release Date(s)2001 (July 11, 2017)
Studio(s)Toho Company/Miramax (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
Pulse (aka Kairo) is one of several Japanese horror films that inspired a trend – remaking foreign horror films for western audiences, specifically in the U.S. It tells the story of several people who begin to experience supernatural phenomena through the use of their computers and cellular phones. The spirit world begins invading reality through these devices and absorbing people one by one. As everyone around them begins to disappear, those left behind find themselves feeling threatened and frightened, rediscovering their links to each other along the way.
The overarching theme of Pulse is disconnection. Made in the days when the internet was still fairly new and not a fully understood technology, the film almost foretells of the increasing isolation of those that are hooked into it, and the ghosts absorbing them is simply a metaphor. Even we, as an audience, don’t fully connect with many of the film’s characters, which is entirely the point. It also touches upon depression and how even connecting with people across the globe quite often isn’t enough. It’s a slow-moving film without a strong narrative thrust, but it also doesn’t rely on jump scares. It hinges upon a much more deliberate pace, earning its scares instead of forcing them.
Although it was unmemorably remade in 2008, Pulse stands today as one of the strongest and most memorable entries in the genre from that period. Most of that is due to the direction of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a filmmaker keen on utilizing themes. For him, mood, atmosphere, and visuals are far more important than fully explaining the intricacies of the actual plot. One might even find themselves drawn to returning to the film to understand it more fully as nothing is entirely spelled out. It’s also a haunting film, one that you’ll be thinking about long after you’ve seen it.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Pulse features a transfer carryover from its parent company Kadokawa Pictures. The results are a little problematical. I’m not exactly clear on what the definitive look for this film is as this presentation seems to have the intentional look of a duped negative that’s several generations away from the original. Although it was shot on 35mm, it characteristically doesn’t resemble it. Grain levels are high and thick with extremely deep black levels that are tremendously crushed. Textures are a little soft as a consequence. The film also lacks a lot of color variety, but pinks, yellows, and blues do pop occasionally. Skin tones also appear natural when given the chance. Overall brightness and contrast levels are intermingled with the level of darkness in the film’s appearance, which is to say, somewhat flat. Minor damage leftover includes some speckling from time to time, and at least one instance of a hole at the bottom of the frame. It’s a presentation with extreme personality, to say the least. It looks quite solid for the film’s subject matter, but some may be turned off by its appearance. For the audio, a single track is included: Japanese 2.0 LPCM. The sound design of the film lacks major movement from speaker to speaker, but everything is amply supported, including dialogue, score, and sound effects. The latter certainly has plenty to offer, including the sounds of the ghosts. It’s an effective track that’s immersive without being overly zealous. Optional subtitles are included in English.
Extras include an hour-long interview with the director Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Broken Circuits; a thirty-minute interview with the director of photography Junichiro Hayashi: Creepy Images; the featurette The Horror of Isolation, containing interviews with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett; a set of archival making of featurettes, which also includes the film’s original Japanese 2001 roadshow trailers and teasers; an introduction to the Tokyo premiere in January 2001 by Kurosawa and members of the cast; another introduction from the Cannes Film Festival in May 2001 by Kurosawa and actor Haruhiko Kato; a set of Special Effects Breakdowns (The Suicide Jump, Harue’s Death Scene, Junko’s Death Scene, Dark Room Scenes); 11 TV spots (including a couple that use music from Dario Argento’s Phenomena); 2 promotional NHK Station IDs; a DVD copy of the film; and a 20-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Chuck Stephens.
Although Pulse is severely dated in some ways, the power of it still resonates quite clearly because it relies on themes rather than horror clichés – the American remake is only further proof of this. It’s the mark of effective filmmaking, and Pulse is certainly guilty of that. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray of the film is a welcome addition to their library, and if you’re a fan of J-horror in any capacity, it should also be a part of yours.
- Tim Salmons