Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

kairo-coverYes, it’s happening. Very soon, the US will release its own version of “Pulse” and I have surprisingly high hopes. It looks like a very scary movie, so I decided to watch the original film, since originals are always better, and I finally did. “Kairo” is without a doubt one of the most bleak horror films I’ve seen in years, it’s a film that never really casts an optimistic brow, and it’s a horror film that reaches down to the core of human emotions and brings out the horrific implications of what we can do to ourselves that can spell the end of the world as we know it.

“Kairo” is told in two narratives, both of which end up becoming incredibly effective. Michi is a botanist who just witnessed the hanging suicide of her best friend who killed himself without any explanation. He friend Yabe has also been affected hiding out in his room and sealing his doors with red tape, on the other side of the city, Karashisa, a man whose had a first hand experience with the ghosts on his computer seeks out the origins of the morbid images he keeps receiving along with a computer teacher named Karasawa. Like all excellent horror, “Kairo” takes core human emotions, and fears and uses that as a catalyst for the horror, and makes the film so much more scarier and bleak. “Kairo” can also be an argument for the fact that horror can be very frightening without blood and guts.

And though “Kairo” does excel in utterly incredible violent imagery (watch a girl fall to her death without the camera cutting away), it never gets incredibly gory. “Kairo” goes to show that on rare occasions, with the right creative team, you can have a very scary movie without blood and guts. Director Kurosawa explores a concept that not many modern horror fans know about–he relies on imagination to create the true horror, and never splashes blood and special effects at us. As the film progresses, the two main characters begin to slowly experience the messages being received by them from beyond the Earth realm and attempt to discover what is happening, and why they’re being haunted. Kurosawa explores the apocalypse through a slow and gradual build-up that relies on amazing atmosphere and nightmarish imagery.

He asks the audience which is ultimately the more horrifying, the end of the world through a cataclysmic explosion, or the soft hush of humanity wasting away? “Kairo” is an immensely scary horror film that loves to play tricks on the audience without the use of monsters, yet slowly envelopes imagery of ghosts and mounts the tension until we’re squirming in our seats. Kurosawa makes even the simplest sequence seem as if he’s really grabbing us by the throats, and most times the simplicity adds to the horror. Be it Kawashima discovering the website for the first time, or Yabe opening the forbidden room. “Kairo” is a genuinely scary film with a brutally haunting score courtesy of Takefumi Haketa that evolves from a ghost story to a slow building apocalyptic nightmare with an extremely bleak second half, and Kurosawa enhances the stark onslaught of judgment day with some rather surreal and amazing imagery.

But ultimately, one of the main messages of the film is that our own fears will become our own undoing, we’re the ghosts, and the ghosts are us, constantly connected in a mass channel but so immensely distant from humanity. Modern technology has kept us all connected, but so at a distance. So, while we’re together, we’re also immensely cut off from anyone, thus being just as good as ghosts. Intentional or not, Kurosawa’s commentary comes through loud and clear. I’m looking forward to the remake, because it looks like a great film. But can they be just as good, or better than “Kairo”? Well, I’ll just have to see. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film, however, is an amazing apocalyptic thriller, and is possibly one of the most bleak films I’ve seen in a while. It’s scary, it’s depressing, it’s engrossing, and it’s good. I’m a sucker for apocalyptic films.