By Bradley Lane
Having been a film fan on the internet, I was aware there was a Japanese horror craze in the early to mid-2000s both in Japan and abroad, but I had yet to dive into the j-horror scene for myself. Many of these films did so well in fact, I was familiar with their American remakes before I had ever learned they were based on Japanese films at all, like 2002’s The Ring or 2004’s The Grudge. However, this year with an ambitiously lengthy horror watchlist and October upon us, I decided to start my j-horror education with a foundational work of the movement, 2001’s Pulse directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. What I discovered was a film that not only stood the test of time but spoke past the time in which it was created in an effort to warn us about preciously the moment we find ourselves in now.
The film begins with a group of friends being blindsided by the tragic suicide of one of their own, an event that leaves them all shocked and confused. This only gets worse as they discover a mysterious ghostly image of their friend on a disc he was working on before his death. Simultaneously, an economics student begins to have his new internet connectivity haunted by similarly ghostly entities. Separately they seek to investigate and make sense of the digital horrors sent to haunt them.
What stands out most when watching Pulse is just how similar it is to modern horror in America. The scenes with violent imagery and ghosts are certainly scary, but the real horror of the film comes from real world fears of isolation and loneliness. The film posits that technology and modern life only serve to further disconnect people rather than to function as designed and bring people together. The film states explicitly that the ghosts in the story do not seek to kill their targets, but rather that, “they’ll try to make people immortal, by quietly trapping them in their own loneliness.”
This fear of the modern world being designed to draw people further apart has been previously explored cinematically by masters like Ozu and Antonioni, but not until Pulse was the messaging focused tightly and clearly enough to be so immediately terrifying. Ari Aster’s 2019 film Midsommar utilizes a similar effect by demonstrating how the main character becomes alienated by the modern world to the point she excuses eugenics, suicide pacts and ritualistic murder just to feel as though she belongs to a supporting community. This serves as a perfect continuation to the horrific themes offered by Pulse in a time where it only is becoming more and more poignant.
The ghosts in Pulse are certainly unnerving, but like all great horror films, the real horror exists in the real world outside of the film, in the inescapable mundane horror of a world slowly pulling each of us further away from one another. Pulse is available to stream for free on Tubi. – 5/5 stars