by Jim Ridley
Vanderbilt's "International Lens" series winds down for the semester tonight with a free screening of the Japanese horror film Pulse 7:30 p.m. at Sarratt Cinema. It'll be introduced by Gerald Figal, Vanderbilt associate professor of history and Asian studies. Below, a vintage Scene write-up:
I’ll admit I’ve gotten tired of vaguely spooky Japanese horror movies and the American retreads that have watered them down into third-generation copies. But the terrifying Pulse (Kairo) shows why they seemed so fresh and startling when they first showed up here in the late ’90s.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s thriller is a ghost story for the age of chatrooms and spam. Suicidal teens off themselves, then reappear to friends as apparitions or smudgy shadows — an eerie reminder of the traces left by the vaporized in Hiroshima. As the deaths become an epidemic, computers blink on unbidden and TV images warp and remove the heads of those onscreen, transmitting a viral invitation to leave the living for digital immortality.
Like other J-horror films such as Ringu and its many clones, Pulse emphasizes the personal disconnection that’s a side effect of Internet connection: the disembodied speak to each other daily via email. Kurosawa makes this ghost world literal, leading to an apocalyptic ending that suggests a slow-motion Rapture (and you missed it). If the plot and threats in Pulse are vague, the mood of imminent terror is almost suffocating. The scares come not from amped-up cat shrieks or gory killings, but from darkened rooms and ordinary appliances turned savagely unfamiliar.
Pulse was made in 2001 but shelved for a U.S. remake. The trailer for the remake looks like the same old blatant ooga-booga where the original is anything but, but that’s not the best reason to go ahead and see Kurosawa’s film on the big screen. The best reason is that on DVD it’s almost impossible to make out some of the scariest scenes, which take place in near-total darkness. Besides, the last place you want to watch this house of electronic horrors is on TV, at home alone.