Scary movies have been coming out of Japan lately, and keeping in its tradition of never coming up with an original idea, Hollywood has been remaking them at a rapid clip. The good side of this venture is that some of the actual Japanese versions are hitting the theaters stateside. Pulse was released in theaters last fall and now it is making its debut on DVD well before its American counterpart will be released.
The movie starts with two story lines - the first is of a girl, Michi (Kumiko Aso), who has a computer-guru friend who goes missing and then commits suicide. The second story occurs in the same town as a young college student, Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) is getting connected to the Internet for the first time. He manages to find a weird site that is showing creepy video and it looks like the apartment of Michi's dead friend. He disconnects but the web site calls back. He enlists the help of another student, Harue, (Koyuki) to help him figure out what is possesing his modem while Michi's other friends start disappearing and/or dying.
In between saying "What the Hell" to myself, I spent a good deal of this movie comparing it to Dawn of the Dead of all things. A minor character supposes that the world of the dead has its fill of souls so they are impinging on our world now. But instead of flesh-eating zombies, Pulse is full of ghosts who seem to infect the living with depression, isolation, and the urge to disappear. Or something like that.
I applaud this new wave (although Pulse was made in 2001) of Japanese horror, because it focuses on scaring you without what was once thought of as requisite bloodshed. This movie is rated R (which I don't agree with) because of some disturbing images, including a spectacular suicide (I still can't figure out how they filmed it) but it is entirely devoid of gore. I'm not against gore but horror movies in general were relying entirely too much on the buckets o' blood approach to attract audiences and ignoring things like actual scares.
The movie is certainly effective on a moody, atmospheric level. It is certainly depressing and during some ghostly close encounters I was clenched up with dread. But Pulse does suffer some long boring stretches and while I don't mind a little ambiguity I was somewhat baffled by some of the scenes and dialog. Even with the confusion a little trip to the editing room to tighten up some of the running time would have done this movie a world of good.
I should be grateful this movie was released on DVD in the US as it is. But, it is a somewhat barebones release and the picture is too murky. In all fairness to the latter problem it was deliberately filmed dark and washed out, but it that makes it difficult to make out what is going on on-screen sometimes. The sound is okay and nothing to write home about. The disk has been released only with subtitles (as opposed to dubbing), which is fine by me as subtitles are my preferred method of watching foreign movies, but you have been warned if it is not yours. I should probably complain about the translation because some of what the actors appear to say is so darned obtuse, but I have a feeling the translation is faithful.
The disk has few extras: a making-of and some trailers. I always try to think of what a disk should have in context of the movie and I think trailers of other Japanese horror movies would have been nice or maybe even a little featurette about the Japanese horror wave.
If Japanese horror is your thing, then this DVD will fit nicely next to the Japanese versions of The Grudge and The Ring. Like those two movies, Pulse is being remade (I'm shocked, shocked! to hear this) in the U.S., and I suppose this release was made to drum up interest in the American version. Somehow I think the American release won't have such a confusing story line and obtuse plot (because us Americans can’t take much of that – we’re too stoopid, ya know). For once I'll be glad, but I bet they'll jettison many of the scares along with it.