Reely Bernie Horror Fest: Pulse (回路, Kairo) – 2001

Origin/Director: Japan/Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Viewings Tally: I’ve seen it twice! No horror marathon list should exist without a Japanese horror entry, and this is one of my favorites!

Synopsis: “Do you want to meet a ghost?” In the immense city of Tokyo, the darkness of the afterlife lurks some of its inhabitants who are desperately trying to escape the sadness and isolation of the modern world. [Letterboxd]

Reely Bernie’s Take:

Right between Ringu (1998) and Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), Pulse (回路, Kairo, 2001) led the way in the surge of Japanese horror movies in the early 21st century. The iconic image of a pale, round face surrounded by long, straight, black hair began to freak out the world, especially Hollywood “filmmakers” who shamelessly remade every single one of Japan’s originalities, including Pulse.

To appreciate Pulse, you must transport yourself to 2001 when two-way telecommunication jumped by 50% on the internet. There was a fresh fear of exploitation, privacy obtrusion, and computer hacking, and I as I write this, I realize not much has changed nineteen years later.

Well, at least we no longer have that irritating dial-up modem sound and the two minutes of waiting that came with it. Pulse believes there is a connection to ghosts in that white noise because they share the same isolation as we do when we become transfixed with the invention called “The Internet.” It’s a clever idea albeit a bit far-reaching.  

Director Kurosawa’s clever visual for the afterlife.

The narrative is choppy, the acting is clumsy, and there are some scenes of overblown melodrama that go on way too long, but, in a way, all these shortcomings make the movie more unsettling. The amateurish innocence to the entire execution makes you wonder if the creators knew what they were getting into, and that’s kind of eerie in of itself. Even the white-glazed, overcast Tokyo skyline provides little room for relief, not to mention the cramped cement-blocked apartment spaces these poor characters try to survive in.

Along with the claustrophobic setting, the ghosts that dwell on the computer screens and within the taped-off “Forbidden Rooms” are quite petrifying. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa choreographs their movements to a slow-motion ballet from hell, and, again, when you’re stuck in a tiny room, trying to escape these things is an impossible task.

Pulse still gives me the creeps, and I mean that in a good way. Any delineation between the “innerwebs” and the underworld should provide a few shivers for some of you. Please let me know if you’ve seen it too!  

The Shot that Won’t Let Go:

There are many others that I didn’t want to spoil, but this one just keeps getting closer!

Final Score: 3.5 modem dial-up buzz sounds out of 5

14 thoughts on “Reely Bernie Horror Fest: Pulse (回路, Kairo) – 2001

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    1. Thank you. I was surprised by how many haven’t seen this, don’t care to, or just don’t relate, but, oh well. This one still creeps me out, and I’m glad I revisited it, and I’m glad you appreciate it too!

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  1. I’ve only seen the American remake (and its sequels). J-horror was ahead of the game in mixing contemporary technology with traditional ghost stories. That “amateurish innocence to the entire execution” also seems part of the J-horror experience, which is probably why Hollywood figured it would be easy to make slick adaptations that would play better in North America. To some extent that was a bet that paid off, but I always feel as though something got lost in the adaptations too. I’ll look for this.

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    1. Good points, Alex. I think the lower budget and more “tangible” effects made the original Pulse creepier. I need to see the remake to better judge, but I did find all of Japanese originals (Ringu, The Grudge, Dark Water, to name a few) much scarier, on edge, and imaginative than the American remakes which placed more on the special effects and less on atmosphere. My humble opinion, but wow, the original “Grudge” stays with me way more than Sarah Michelle Gellar, and I won’t even waste my time on the SECOND remake!

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  2. I actually saw this way way back…I have forgotten parts of it. I many need to revisit it. It’s been at least 10 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s crazy about it is that I felt more creeped out and unsettled by the small, compartmentalized settings the shots took place. Even outside, Tokyo seems so grey and lifeless. It still holds the goods, and I was glad I revisited it. As I look back on all of these, I reflect on what images stay with me. Pulse is loaded with them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok…I do need to check it out again. It might be one of those that we got a lot of movies at once and I didn’t give it my full attention.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Bernie!

    It’s your Mom’s friend Melissa in NJ. Just wanted to comment on how much I’ve enjoyed your movie posts since I signed on last year. I’m not a big horror fan but always get a kick out of your clever and creative writing and humor.

    Congratulations on your upcoming parenthood. What a fine Christmas present!

    Take care and all best to you and Kenzie.

    xoxoxo Melissa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear from you, Melissa! Yes, I can’t wait to be a dad! And, thanks for reading! I’m getting the horror flick obsession out of me while I can. Less scary movies to come post October 🙂 Love you!

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