Thursday, October 27, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Pulse (Kairo)

"Help me"

There was a time there where every Japanese horror movie seemed to get an American remake. Ringu, Ju-On, Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara - all made into relatively big-budget movies with big name American stars. I've seen a bunch of them, but not all (I haven't seen Chakushin Ari, for instance). Pulse was one that slipped through the cracks.

I generally prefer to watch the remakes first, if I can. I find that I almost always prefer the original, and if it's the last version I see I don't end up disappointed. This isn't always the case - The Ring is pretty damn good all on its own, for instance, but it's happened often enough that if I watch the original of a film first I'll end up avoiding the remake. (Which is why I still haven't seen Let Me In, though I've heard it's a fairly decent remake of Let the Right One In.) I ended up deciding on the original this time around specifically because I was in the mood for some J-horror and this was on the recommended list. So I may never get around to the remake as a result.

It's totally not because I'll have become a stain on the wall. Totally not.

On Shudder via Amazon streaming. Decent quality.

Pulse has two separate threads of story that eventually entangle. The first thread follows a group of workers at a rooftop plant shop while the second focuses on two college students.

FYI, THIS is what passes for a sunny day in the movie.

The primary character in the first thread is Michi, with her friends Junko and Yabe. They're expecting a piece of software from another employee, Taguchi, who they haven't heard from in a few days. Michi goes to visit him and while she looks through his stacks of disks he casually goes around the corner and hangs himself. Later, looking at the disk he made for them, the friends find an image of Taguchi standing next to his stack of monitors, one of which contains the same image, causing an infinite series of the same image. In another monitor they can see what looks like a ghostly face.

How can they see anything at this resolution? It's like, 1024 by 768, am I right?

There's a sense of dread that suffuses the action almost from the opening scene. When Taguchi trails off in mid-conversation and shuffles around the corner I said aloud, "well, that's not good." I could have said it almost constantly, however. There's just a constant feeling like things are going horribly wrong just out of your range of vision. The color palette is also very washed out and greenish in tone, leaving even the brief moments of normality feeling off somehow.

The second thread focuses on Ryosuke, an economics student. He signs up for internet access using one of those disks that used to come in, like, every magazine ever. (AOL, Yahoo etc.) Whatever service he used, he should totally uninstall, however, because it immediately connects him to some weird shit. People alone in dark rooms, mostly. Ryosuke turns the computer off, but later that night while he's asleep it turns on again, showing a man in a chair with a plastic bag over his head - before the man can pull the bag off Ryosuke flips out, turning off the computer and unplugging pretty much all the cables. The next day he goes to the computer lab for help, being a novice in all things internet. Another student, or post-grad, Harue, tries to talk him through capturing the address of the site.

"You're not a computer person, are you?"
"What gave it away? Was it the shirt?"
"... yes, it was the shirt."

That whole sequence with Ryosuke starting up his computer and using the disk was a MAJOR 'whoa, I'm old' moment. The sound of the dialup modem, the whole 'computer service on a disk' and the Windows 95 interface on every computer - I felt like I was having flashbacks. It really made me appreciate my cable internet, if nothing else!

In both story threads things start to get weird. Yabe gets a call from the dead Taguchi, whose voice pleads 'help me.' He goes to Taguchi's apartment where he sees a black stain on the wall where Taguchi committed suicide - he also finds a crumpled piece of paper with the words 'the forbidden room' on it. This appears to refer to a room in the basement of the building with a door that is sealed with red tape. When Yabe goes into the room he is confronted and cornered by what appears to be a ghost. This seems to unnerve him completely, and soon he too has vanished into a stain in the wall.

So does Junko. "Come on, be a stain, everyone's doing it!"

Ryosuke manages to take a screencap of the video with the man in the plastic bag. On the wall behind him the words 'help me' are scribbled many times. A character suggests that maybe the place where we go when we die, the place the ghosts come from, only has a finite amount of space. That hell is full, in other words, and now the dead walk the earth.

Nothing quite explains why or how the ghosts are killing people - if the afterlife is full, why bring more people over? Wouldn't ghosts want to help make people immortal - as Harue says? I mean, where are the newly dead going to go?

Don't say library, don't say library... ah, dammit.

Whatever the reason, more and more people disappear as the ghosts multiply. There's an underlying thread about loneliness and isolation in modern life that seems to exacerbate a natural nihilism. The ghosts, it seems to say, indicate that whatever existential angst we feel in life is reflected in the afterlife. "It's lonely being dead." The problem for most of the characters is, it's lonely being alive as well. Confronting the ghosts seems to bring that desire to just stop existing to the front and people either jump from buildings, or, in some cases, simply turn into ash and blow away.

It IS an easier cleanup, though. Too soon?

Our two main characters, Michi and Ryosuke, eventually meet up and try to escape from an increasingly empty and apocalyptic looking city. The question is, is there anywhere to go - and will there be anyone left to greet them if there is?

Let's... go someplace else.

The Bottom Line
I like Pulse quite a bit, although the plot doesn't always (or often) really make sense to me. The ghosts seem to be using the medium of the internet to interact with people, but then they're also in rooms that get sealed with red tape. Some people look at ghosts and are fine, but others just lose the will to live. Really, it's a moody meditation on loneliness and isolation and the worry that we're all just trapped inside our own skulls. Sitting alone in the darkness of my basement, watching this movie over the internet, it felt a little more potent than it might have otherwise.

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