Just about every one of the Americanized J-horror movies has a sequence like that, and precisely none of them have gotten it right. Kurosawa doesn't go for heavy shock effects on the soundtrack, and he allows none of those generic screeching noises that pop off whenever a would-be victim gets a fake scare before the real one. (This is happening a lot with bathroom mirrors lately. Please make it stop.) His lighting and special effects are eerie enough on their own, but the key to Kurosawa's horror films has always been his careful use of sound, whether he's isolating a single piece of live noise, throwing extra emphasis on the music score, or cutting it out altogether. (I've always insisted that people see Kurosawa's 1997 thriller Cure—by far his best film, I think—either in a theater or piped through an excellent home stereo system, because it uses sound as well as any non-David Lynch film I can recall.) What everyone remembers about this sequence in Pulse are the ghost's movements and that slow climb over the sofa, but looking at it again, it's sold just as much by the ghostly chorus and aggressive ambient noises that rise up on the soundtrack.

Truth be told, I find long stretches of Pulse incoherent and glacially paced, and after a few viewings now, I'm no closer to piecing it all together. There's no complexity whatsoever to the characterization, and barely an effort to flesh out their relationships. On a related note, there's not much sense to the way these "ghosts in the machine" operate, no set rules to explain how a human gets sucked into the spectral/electronic world, or how they might manifest themselves later as hitch-stepped ghouls in the various "Forbidden Rooms," with their borders of red tape. I suspect there are answers to all these concerns—answers that will no doubt litter the comment board below—but Kurosawa fails to explicate them clearly (which isn't necessarily bad, as I'll explain in a second) or concisely (at nearly two hours, the film is unpardonably long).


At the same time, I'm mostly grateful that Pulse doesn't explain away all its mysteries. What Kurosawa lacks in narrative clarity, he more than makes up for in pure cinematic suggestion: It's one thing to come out and talk about how humans in the Internet age are like dots that never connect, as Harue does at one point. But Kurosawa also makes that point felt in the way his characters occupy these lonely corners of the city, and are doomed, in life and the afterlife, to wander around in isolated pods without coming into meaningful contact with anyone else. Pulse is a Luddite's movie for sure, just like Untraceable and Perfect Stranger, but it's far more insightful about how the Internet has transformed the way people interact. Kurosawa's ghosts aren't sexual predators lurking in chat rooms or evil glitches in an OnStar system, but normal people living within their screens and banished to an eternity of immortal despair. As otherworldly and strange as the film gets sometimes, anyone who's ever spent much time around a computer undoubtedly knows the feeling.

Coming Up:

Next Wednesday: The Devil's Rejects

Dec. 4: Fallen Angels

Dec. 11: Exotica

Dec. 18: Reservoir Dogs