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"kairo (pulse)" (2001) - kiyoshi kurosawa
posted on 20-May-2003 by anton
"kairo (pulse)" is probably the best example of the so-called "new wave" of asian horror. although I am only starting out on the path of exploration, it is obvious that the existence of "guinea pig" series with their lack of plot, dialogue, characters and extreme violence paved the way for purely psychological pictures ("ringu" series, "dark water," and "pulse" being the best examples).

somewhat disturbing trend (which has a lot of negative potential) is hollywood remaking these films, apparently capitalizing on already successful pictures (wes craven is in the middle of pre-production for american version of "pulse" - evidently the master of knee-jerk horror finally acknowledged his creative impotency).

the unifying characteristic of these recent asian horror movies is the overall subtlety of details - lack of glossy CGI, thunderous scores, big-budgeted effects. next comes the peculiar tenderness and deliberate awkwardness - something I have come to love watching films like "in the mood for love" or "yi yi" - this almost lyrical, poetic atmosphere.

"pulse" is incredible from the cinematography standpoint. I have so many beautiful images ingrained in my mind - these photographic, gorgeously composed stills, which slowly reveal themselves as the camera pauses and then pans. ghostly images, eerie figures, desolate landscapes filled with shadows; murky interiors, figures wandering aimlessly, lost in their inescapable loneliness (arms limp, knees buckling, eyes cast downwards). the themes of hopelessness, fragility, emptiness find a perfect visual expression, executed with an amazing artistic sense.

this imagery weighs heavily on your mind for days afterwards, and this is the strongest side of these movies - they inject everyday things with a sinister meaning (tvs, monitors, shadows become a multitude of "signs" - half-concealed by peripheral vision, lurking in the shadows, slightly odd, but never immediately obvious, until it is too late). "pulse" alters your vision of reality, adds an eerie side to everything you see. the details are mundane - there are no aliens that come from outer space, no gore, no violence - the changes are ever so subtle and possible in everyday life (especially at two in the morning, with your back to a blank tv screen).

"pulse" also has the best use of sound I have experienced. not only the music enhances every single episode with its dark rumbling background and forlorn disembodied voices and strings, but sudden deafening, incredibly physical silence, pressing against your ears - a stunning effect.

I have always been fascinated by the thought of reality, slowly eroding, transforming itself around the characters, and no other movie has done it as perfectly. this makes for a great psychological thriller, and those with enough imagination and willing to subject themselves to this immersion would be the most susceptible to effect of these films.

it is interesting to compare "pulse" with another favorite of mine - "audition." the latter employed subtlety and delicacy, slowly-building narrative as a contrast to extreme violence. the resulting effect was a lot more direct, immediate and short-lived. "pulse" on the other hand, gets under your skin, and you keep coming back to it again and again in your mind.

despite a few insignificant, purely storytelling flaws, this is an absolutely essential picture, elevating the conventional horror genre far above the usual single-minded exploitation and cheap thrill factor.

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