• Pulse (Kairo)

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: July 11th, 2017.
    Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
    Cast: Haruhiko Katô, Kuyuki, Masatoshi Matsuo, Kumiko Asô
    Year: 2001
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa in 2001, Pulse (or, if you prefer, Kairo), begins when a botany student named Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) kills himself after working on a computer program for some of his fellow students. Understandably confused and upset about this development, three of his classmates Toshio Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo), Junko Sasano (Kurume Arisaka), and Michi Kudo (Kumiko Asô) start to look into the event that left their classmate hanged by his neck, an ominous black spot on the wall behind him. They start looking through the data that he left behind and come across a strange website wherein Taguchi himself appears, standing almost but not quite stationary in front of his computer monitor.

    Elsewhere, another student named Ryosuke Kawashima (Haruhiko Katô) unpacks his new computer, installs his internet software, dials up a connection and is promptly greeted by another strange website asking him if he wants to meet a ghost. This switches over to what appears to be a live stream of a dark, shadowy figure standing in a barren room. Shortly after this happens, Toshio’s cell phone rings and he quite literally receives a call for help. This leads him and the others to continue their investigation. Once they ascertain what actually happened to Taguchi, a similar fate befalls Toshio.

    Confused as to why his new computer keeps forcing him to visit this same strange website, Ryosuke visits a school tech named Harue Karasawa (Koyuki). From here, thing get stranger – there appears to be a rash of suicides in the area that could be related to the ghost sightings and bizarre occurrences taking place online while the streets of Tokyo seem to be becoming more and more empty as all of this plays out.

    Part of the ”J-Horror” boom mainstreamed by the success of films like Ring and The Grudge series, Pulse offers very little in the way of long haired female ghosts crawling out of wells or creepy, twitchy corpse painted kids popping out from under beds. There are definitely some eerie images here, to be sure, but Kiyoshi Kurosawa has given viewers a far more pensive viewing experience that relies more on character development and atmosphere than jump scares or effects. The film is slow. Deliberately slow, of course, but still, it moves at a snail’s pace for much of its two hour running time. For those willing to pay attention to the film and read into it, however, it’s a pretty rewarding experience. Seen as a metaphor for the decline in actual human social interaction in early days of an age where people were spending more and more time online, the movie turns out to be quite clever. In this film the world truly does end –at least as we know it - not with a bang, but a whimper. It’s heady stuff, almost metaphysical at times, and it’s interesting how Kurosawa uses a ghost story as the framework for this fairly epic tale of the supernatural and the technological.

    Production values are good. The cinematography isn’t flashy but it’s very effective and the camera does manage to capture some genuinely eerie imagery, especially in the last half hour or so of the picture. Solid performances from the young cast elevate this over standard J-Horror tropes but really, it’s the scope and effect of the story that draws you in.


    Arrow brings Pulse to Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc framed in the film’s proper aspect ratio of 1.85.1. The quality of the image here is not going to blow you away, but it does noticeably rise above DVD levels of detail and depth. The picture is quite flat, showing dark greys instead of true blacks and featuring some surprisingly muted colors (although to be fair this is a very drab looking movie that makes use of a pretty bland color scheme in the first place). There is some occasional noise present in the picture but it isn’t overpowering. The disc is well authored and so there aren’t any compression artifacts to note but this isn’t a particularly mind blowing presentation.

    The Japanese language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Master Audio track is quite good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. If the transfer isn’t perfect, the audio is at least fairly impressive. Levels are nicely balanced and there is frequent use of both the left and right channels to help build suspense and atmosphere. The score has good punch to it and the dialogue stays clean and clear. The subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. No complaints here – this is a nice, eerie sound mix that really helps to make some of the film’s more intense moments resonate even more.

    New to this release, as far as extra features are concerned, is an interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa entitled Broken Circuits that runs almost forty-four minutes in length. This piece isn’t just specific to Pulse as it allows the filmmaker to talk about his early days in the film industry before then going on to become a legitimate ‘name’ in Japan’s horror film industry. Arrow have also included a new twenty-five minute long interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi entitled Creepy Images who talks about working his way up the ladder by collaborating on various projects in his early years before then going on to work on some more notable productions such as this one. Complementing the interviews is a seventeen minute long featurette called The Horror Of Isolation which is a new ‘video appreciation’ featuring filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Here the two men talk about how the Japanese horror cycle of the early 2000s influenced their own work in certain ways before then going on to explain why they hold this particular film and its director in such high regard.

    Carried over from previous DVD releases is a forty-one minute long archival making of documentary that contains a load of fairly interesting behind the scenes footage alongside some EPK style interview clips. Also carried over from past editions are four shorter archival behind-the-scenes featurettes (tucked away in the Special Effects Breakdowns section). Each of these shorter pieces shows us how a particular stunt or set piece was put together (including that unforgettable fall from atop the water tower).

    Also be on the lookout for three minutes footage shot at the movie’s Cannes Film Festival premiere from May of 2001 and seven minutes of cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo that took place in January of 2001. The disc also includes a twelve second NHK station ID bumper that ties into the movie, a few TV spots (no theatrical trailer), animated menus and chapter selection.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the first pressing of this release is accompanied by a full color illustrated booklet that contains an essay on the film by Chuck Stephens as well as credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release. Tucked inside the Blu-ray case along with the Blu-ray disc and the booklet is a DVD version of the movie containing identical extras features. On top of that, we also get some nice reversible cover art with the one sheet image on one side and a newly commissioned piece by Tommy Pocket on the flipside.

    The Final Word:

    Pulse is very much a slow burn, and not a film for those not willing to pay close attention to the proceedings. As such, those seeking superficial thrills would be advised to look elsewhere, but if you’re okay with very deliberate pacing and a picture that puts mood and atmosphere over jump scares and gore, this one holds up well despite some sluggish spots.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!