Not too long back I first began reading about the upcoming release of Pulse, starring Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars). I soon discovered it was yet another remake of a Japanese horror film. Not being in the loop AT ALL, I had to do some digging to find out that the original film was already five years old. Not only was I not in the loop, it seems I was totally square. Having nurtured a burgeoning love over the last few years for horror cinema that heralds from the land of the rising sun, I figured unlike all previous films in this genre that have been remade for western audiences, I would actually make an effort to watch the original before the Americanized (AKA dumbed down) version was unleashed on the public. A few clicks at Netflix and two days later I had the disc in my eager hands.
The story of Kairo is pretty simple and straightforward, but not always crystal clear. It begins with a small group of people dealing with the suicide of a co-worker. Soon the dead man’s face appears on one person’s computer screen while another begins seeing him in the shadows. Another young man logs onto a mysterious website that asks him if he wants to see a ghost. Even after logging off, his computer keeps returning to this site on it’s own and he begins seeing and hearing odd things. Add in some rooms sealed with red masking tape that contain unseen horrors, people who are driven to suicide after entering those locations, other people vanishing into thin air and leaving nothing behind but faint outlines on the walls and pleas for help that seem to come from beyond the grave and what you end up with is a movie that is both effectively creepy and confusing.
I suppose my first complaint with the film is that it is far too long. Clocking in at just under two hours, this movie was at times an exercise in patience, as it moves along at a leisurely pace, rushing nothing. I really felt that it could have been trimmed and still been just as effective. My second gripe – and I will admit it is something that I’ve not only come to expect from such films, but I’ve realized that there is not much to do be done but accept it – is the lack of any clear explanation as to what the hell is exactly going on. This aspect isn’t really anything new to Japanese cinema, and most people familiar with the genre will know that audiences in Japan are much more forgiving when it comes to such things. Still, there was enough theories bandied about by a couple characters to get the gist of what was transpiring: the barriers between our world and whatever realm the dead inhabit have been breached and the deceased are beginning to voice their unhappiness through all manner of electric media…computers in particular. Why this resulted in people making the seemingly willful decision to “evaporate” into shadowy stains is still beyond me, but I’m sure one or two dozen more viewings will clear that right up.
As far as the “scare” factor is concerned, the fear here is generated more from a psychological and mysterious point of view rather than in your face “BOO” moments. Then again, the culture is somewhat different. In Japan, merely seeing a ghost is cause for heart stopping fright, whereas in America we expect a little more from our spectral visitors other than just glaring at us from the corner. Still, I would readily say that there is a definite and palpable sense of unease that permeates this film and in my opinion it conveyed a much spookier look and feel than either Ringu or Ju-on – two successful films that went on to reap big profits in the American remake market. I would suggest viewing this film for that reason alone. Well, that and one eerie suicide that is filmed without the camera ever looking away. If while viewing this movie you are able to figure out what it is really about (aside from a social commentary on loneliness), please let me know.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5