“Death was… eternal loneliness.”
I’ll admit it. To list Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (known as Kairo in Japan) as one of my ‘favourite’ films was a decision I had my doubts about. This is a film you do not ‘enjoy’ so much as ‘uncomfortably endure with admiration’ for its 2-hour running time. It is a depressing film in which you witness multiple suicides (though not too explicitly); its main theme is loneliness, and most of its characters ultimately lose the will to live. And the scariest thing about all of it is that you’re not quite sure why. They aren’t driven to despair by tragic life events, nor are they lonely because they have no friends or lack connection per se.
Rather, the main problem in Pulse seems, in a sense, over-connection. It touches on that intrinsic truth most of us know but some would prefer to deny: technological interaction, whether through the Internet or over the phone, cannot match the value of real human company. People can be surrounded by many friends across the world in today’s technological age, yet still be haunted by a certain type of loneliness due to lacking face-to-face time.
But of course this issue is a circular one. Technology is not really the problem; our love for its convenience is. The more time one spends interacting with it, the more awkward the alternative becomes, until a point arrives when they no longer remember what it is like to have real contact with others. They no longer recognize the benefits of that, and before you know it, it is the face-to-face moments that become nothing more than a passing ‘how are you?’ followed by awkwardness if the socially acceptable answer is not the one you get.
Such thoughts are the kind that Pulse prompts you (or at least me) to consider, communicated in a despairing manner with a plot that revolves around ghosts invading the world of the living through the Internet. Despairing, mainly because it offers no helpful answer to the dilemma it presents; its ending is as depressing as the rest of the film, if not more so. In this cinematic fantasy world of fairy tales and happy endings, though, I am perfectly fine with such a change of pace.
The technological theme was prevalent among other popular J-horror movies – Ring (1998), Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) – but Pulse’s approach was somewhat unique. In a sense it reversed the source of our fear, its main cause for concern not the spirits haunting us but rather, human psychology and our own emotional fragility.
Probably not a film to casually enjoy while relaxing with some mates at the weekend then; nonetheless I consider Pulse to be something of a masterpiece in its own right.