The Lonely Crowd
by Brody Rossiter
The narratives of Japanese cinema repeatedly stem from overarching themes of societal loneliness and the omnipresent battle between tradition and modernity that rages at the heart of the country’s conflicted culture. While such topics may often prove overwhelmingly glum as their influence is projected upon various melancholic characters, it’s rare to see such poetic refrains cultivate a sense of true horror within audiences. 2001’s Pulse (originally known as Kairo in its native land) is one such capable picture.
What you immediately have to acknowledge with Pulse is that it isn’t a horror picture segmented into a series of terror-filled sequences, but rather one big harrowing decline merely punctuated by moments of fear. If you wait for the scares, you’ll ultimately be waiting a long time. However, the apocalyptic gloom which slowly seeps over this tale of isolation within the confines of an overcrowded world is quite extraordinary. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa utilises the introduction of the internet to expose his cast of disheveled university students to the emptiness of their everyday lives spent fixated upon computer screens and electronic devices, more often than not within the diminutive confines of dingy overstuffed apartments.
Following the suicide of one of their colleagues, a group of young computer programmers stumble across a website called the “Forbidden Room”. Its webcam transmissions of dead-eyed loners despairingly lurking around their homes initially alarm the picture’s protagonists before beginning to offer an answer to the strange disappearances and deaths which become everyday occurrences. Luckily Kurosawa’s empathetic approach to his leading men and women offers a human element to the film’s removed tone; a tool which offers a clear and unsettling juxtaposition once such emotive characters begin to embrace the lifeless ghosts which no longer lay dormant in their machines.
What begins as a sinister electronic passageway into a ghostly afterlife mirroring what Kurosawa highlights as the tireless repetition of our everyday lives (ghostly visages pictured creeping around their shadowy apartments via webcam), gradually invades reality. Individuals are dispatched not with slashes and stabs, but the realisation that loneliness is slowly devouring us all. As these ghosts begin to materialise within the real world, so does a pervasive, gnawing end-of-days scenario free from cataclysm and bombast but riddled with despair and hopelessness.
Pulse may not make you reach for nearby cushions with which to shield your eyes or send you racing for the nearest exit, it will however grab hold of your heart and soul like no horror film before. It’ll also make you unplug your television and chuck your laptop out of the window, but maybe that’s for the best.