Kyoshi Kurosawa’s “Kairo” is a film dripping in terror that deliberately paces itself as a slow burning end of the world tale. Rather than an all out orgy of gore and carnage, “Pulse” eventually explodes in to something of a last gasp of humanity, and a civilization that ends in a whisper and somber whimper. “Kairo” is written as something of a two act structure where Kurosawa opts for a film that’s episode in the vein of “Pulp Fiction,” and then smashes together in the stunning climax. Much of what we see seems and feels random in many places, and events collide allowing for a cogent unfolding of events that doesn’t just make sense but feels so meticulously planned from square one. What makes “Kairo” so haunting even when the credits have drawn to a close is the way the director opts less for splatter and gore, and more for a requiem that depicts mankind as a stain and nothing more.
When “Kairo” ends mankind has left nothing more than human shaped ash that resemble shadows, but they’re hardly humans at all, save for unconscious traces of who they were as people. In Kurosawa’s tale, the end of the world is quiet, behind closed doors, and inevitably hidden in our obsession of technology. “Do you Want to See a Real Ghost?” a mysterious website asks in a biting bit of commentary, to which it immediately cuts to another user on a computer draped in shadows, and inevitably to the exact person on the computer. We live in a time where technology an extension of ourselves and is being developed to become apart of us. Director Kurosawa makes a statement that even though we’re more connected than we ever were fifty years ago, we’re still just ghosts living through words. We’re isolated from human contact and true communication, and failing to live the lives we were given.
All the while the majority of voices we hear are always imitations through technological devices, bereft of the socialization that humans typically crave and need to thrive. What happens when ghosts from another realm decide that we don’t deserve these lives and should take our place? What do we do when the ghosts have used our largest societal element to break through to our side? Worse, what happens when technology becomes our worst enemy? Surely Kurosawa’s tale of the apocalypse through the mercy of machines follows different characters, and their inevitable discovery of this gradual extinguishing of the human race. Like most of the world they inhabit, they spend their time clinging to technology, and soon must unite hoping to find a way to defeat what becomes a takeover. What inevitably connects them is a vain minute victory as not many people realize what is occurring around them in time to flee their world, nor do many want to, what with the comfort of their devices. Kurosawa constantly keeps our specters in the darkness and as blurs.
But as the signals become stronger, and humans dissolve into black blotches on walls, the undead become a new race and decide that the city is now their own. A plane crashes over our main character Ryosuke disappearing into the horizon, ghosts quickly inhabit a desolate game center, computers turn themselves on and off, and survivors hurl themselves off rooftops. We even become witnesses to a bittersweet climax that, in typical form of the sub-genre, reveals that even though a few survive it’s still all lost in a sea of dead electronics, and the dawn of a new race. Director Kurosawa’s horror thriller is a stark and very creepy film reliant on mood and atmosphere as well as creeping terror that turns “Kairo” in to a masterpiece. The question: “With our obsession of technology and isolation, would we realize it if the human race suddenly disappeared one day?” will keep you up nights.