Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2001)
The internet becomes even scarier as spirits try to come to our world through the world wide web.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.
After recently reviewing Ringu, I decided it was time to dig a little further into some of the better Asian films available and my first stop is Pulse (Kairo). In this film, folks start to suspect that spirits are trying to invade the living world after one of their friends commits suicide in one of the creepiest looking on-screen depictions of a hanging in existence. I had debated doing another film comparison between this film and its American remake, but fuck that, I don’t want to watch that shit, and no one needs another person telling them that the American Pulse was hot garbage. Thankfully, Kairo is excellent and really scary, so we’ll just knock this one out. It’s also a haunting look at the after-effects of death, and helps to trace the Japanese horror roots to real-life occurrences that permeate Japanese culture in a way that Americans will never understand, like the extremely effective symbolism of the ghosts of Hiroshima.
Particularly effective and horrifying on a human level.
Kairo is an existentially haunting film with a disturbing message of loneliness and immortality. It plays with shadows and on-screen images that make you question what you’re seeing in the best ways. Is that image in the window a ghost, or is it simply a discoloration or shadow? The film expertly navigates the world of new technology, while at the same time showing its audience the terror that might await them behind these mysterious screens. New technology is scary, especially when no one in the audience has any clue what to expect. This was the time period when, if something went wrong, it had to be a hacker, because no one else had any fucking clue what they were doing. To make an eerie ghost story out of technology that no one understood yet was prescient and far ahead of its time. This could have easily been made in America in 2008, and Kurosawa knocks it out of the park almost ten years beforehand.
When the words “Would you like to meet a ghost?” appear on the character’s screen, we beg him to shut the whole thing down because we most decided do not want to meet a ghost. Yet we know its coming, and we know that the answer to that question will be an inevitable yes before too long. Japanese horror, as we discussed in our review of Ringu, is different than American horror. However, watching the antique-internet webcams capturing suicides is absolutely terrifying, and this film is just as effective to American audiences. The whole film has an air of disturbing and nauseating fear to it, and I can honestly say there were times where I hesitated to continue staring at the screen. It’s not often that a film gets to me, but Kairo was an effective, truly scary film. The scene in which a woman jumps to her death from a communication tower is particularly disturbing, and one of the most effective portrayals of an actual suicide in film history. It’s a bit long at right at two hours, but it’s scary and tightly paced for most of the film with just a few dragging spots.
And also the scariest ghost dance of all time.
The film has an incredibly unnerving score, filled with Ringu-style gongs and scary-ass violins, all underscored by ghostly singing. It’s a precursor to the Blumhouse soundtrack, creating a sense of unease throughout the entire film that wouldn’t be matched in American cinema for almost a decade. The actors do a fantastic job of playing terrified college students, and there are some terrific scenes of hauntings and internet phenomena. The fact that the ghosts cry out for help from beyond the grave gives the film a melancholic feeling, and, while scary, transforms what we’re witnessing into a devastatingly sad experience. The concept that the world of the dead has a finite capacity, and that its overflow eventually will seep through whatever conduit is available into the land of the living, is a mind-blowing theory, and could serve as a rational explanation for modern ghost sightings in pictures, on websites, and through music. This theory resonates even with me, even though I’m not a huge believer in most supernatural phenomena. Except the Bigfoot, in whom I absolutely believe.
Who this movie is for: J-Horror fans, Cult classic lovers, Boomers looking for one more reason to hate technology
Bottom line: Creepy, scary, and downright unnerving, Kairo is a fantastic exploration of the way supernatural entities could utilize modern technology to become an actual presence in our world. It’s coherent, well-made, and a believable film for which suspension of disbelief is not as necessary as it often is in other supernatural films. It’s a ghost story first and foremost, and an effective one at that. Great film, must-see for fans of the genre or anyone who can tolerate subtitles.