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Pulse (2001) Review


Extraordinary
Following on the heels of Hideo Nakata's original Ringu and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 masterpiece Pulse is, at first glance, simply another J-horror film obsessed with the malevolent dangers posed by technology. Yet though the Internet becomes the conduit for otherworldly forces exerting their influence over the living, Kurosawa's film, largely forgoing traditional scare tactics in favor of a mood of dawning irrational terror, shares little with its Japanese contemporaries save for some aesthetic similarities (an austere color palette, measured pacing, long-haired female ghouls). As with his similarly magnificent serial killer saga Cure, Kurosawa assumes the superficial trappings of a genre only to utilize them for a philosophical inquiry into the disaffection and loneliness of modern existence. And with this tale of online-fostered apocalyptic alienation, the iconoclastic writer/director eerily pinpoints the means by which technological tools designed to foster greater interconnectedness instead - through encouraging depersonalized, anonymous interfacing with others - merely contribute to greater societal isolation.

Communication breakdown is Pulse's primary preoccupation, an infectious ailment that spreads throughout Tokyo like a plague - or, more aptly, like a computer virus, as a program on botanical nursery worker Taguchi's (Kenji Mizuhashi) floppy disk seems to spark a chain of catastrophic web-based events involving forlorn ghosts. When Taguchi goes missing from work, colleague Michi (Kumiko Aso) visits his apartment, where a disheveled Taguchi - when his guest's back is turned - uses a rope for fatal purposes. Examining the disk her friend had been working on, Michi and friend Junco (Kurume Arisaka) discover a haunting image of Taguchi's flat in which a computer screen projects the identical scene they're looking at, as well as a shadowy spectre staring into another monitor. Not long afterwards, Michi's television goes haywire (while a newsman discusses a long-lost communiqué) while her other co-worker Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo), after receiving anonymous phone calls from someone pleading "Help me," unlocks a mysterious room whose doors are sealed with red duct tape. And in a concurrent storyline, technophobic economics student Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato) teams up with a computer lab worker named Harue (Koyuki) after stumbling upon a strange website called The Forbidden Room which depicts fuzzy people somnolently moving about their tiny abodes.

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