Of the two extras contained on this disc, perhaps the more noteworthy is the English language trailer. As you’d expect from such a piece there’s a great deal of hyperbole: Pulse is proclaimed as the true precursor to Japanese horror hits Ringu and Ju-on (The Grudge), whilst its director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is named the “godfather” of the current J-horror movement. Big words indeed, but almost entirely misplaced. They presume that the Japanese film industry didn’t make horror movies until the late nineties and that somehow Pulse, made in 2001, came before 1998’s Ringu. That said, Kurosawa’s efforts at least share some thematic and dramatic concerns with these other movies.. As with Ringu this is a film which sets up its ghost story via technological means. As with Ju-on it is essentially empty outside of its desire to elicit screams and scares.
It’s this latter element which seems to have taken precedent. Kurosawa favours slow, languorous build-ups followed by loud, heavily scored pay-offs. Cellos are preferred, as are the standard industrial rumbles, plus there’s room for what appears to be distorted church bells. All told, Kurosawa is able to create a fine atmosphere, one ably abetted by his choice of a muted colour scheme and equally low-key performances. The problem is that there’s so little behind it.
In plot terms Pulse can be a little muddy at times – following different characters for interminable periods of time leaves it feeling somewhat shapeless – yet essentially it revolves around a single concept. The ghost world - or whatever you may wish to call it – has, it seems, become overcrowded and so its inhabitants are beginning to make themselves known in the real world. Being a modern day J-horror movie this becomes apparent to our protagonists through various contemporary issues: a friend’s suicide sparks off their intrigue; the internet continues it; and even mobile phones are used as a means of ghostly communication.
All of which would no doubt have provided some interest had Kurosawa been in possession of some understanding of the issues he has chosen to raise. Yet we’re continually left with the impression that he doesn’t care for such things and as such they attain an almost tokenistic presence. Indeed, Pulse is simply marked by an all round attitude of technophobia, yet one which is present to such an extent that there’s never the interest on the filmmakers’ part with which to suck us in; they don’t care and so consequently neither do we, even as developments take a more apocalyptic turn.
Moreover, the decision to have the characters repeatedly talk to themselves and thus attempt explain the remotest of motivations (“What am I doing?” comes up time and again) suggests either that the filmmakers themselves don’t really know what’s going on or that they are treating their audience with contempt. Indeed, the end result is a film which not only do we not warm to, but also one that makes very little sense. As a final death knell, the fact that the market has since become overburdened by such films gives it very little currency, forthcoming US remake or not. Ultimately Pulse is nothing more than just another lacklustre Japanese horror movie.
The disappointment is further compounded by Optimum’s less than worthy handling. The film itself comes in a ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement, but is otherwise lacking. The image suffers from soft edges and an overall murkiness, whilst the English subtitles are not only burnt-in, but also barely legible in their hazy, pure white form. As for the soundtrack, here we find a DD2.0 mix which is a noticeable downgrade from the intended DD5.1. It is admittedly fine as far as it goes, but not the kind of treatment we'd hope for or expect. Indeed, Pulse is coming to the UK market in somewhat unfavourable form and hardly likely to appeal to genre fans.
The extras amount to a 41-minute ‘making of’ featurette and the aforementioned trailer. Sadly, the lengthier piece shares the disappointment elsewhere. Opening with ten minutes worth of trailers and relying a great deal on B-roll footage, it comes across as a sprawling mess. Moreover, the interviews give away very little and certainly don’t explain any of Kurosawa’s choices or motivations. It’s hard not to come to the end of this piece (which also has burnt-in English subs, incidentally) and feel that Pulse was nothing more than another blatant cash-in on other directors’ successes.