Pulse (2001) Blu-ray Review

Still Beating

Pulse belies the typical horror adjectives. It’s never exciting or thrilling. Rarely is Pulse terrifying in any surface way.

Instead, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s exotically photographed, oppressively nihilistic viewpoint on emerging internet tech (circa 2001) captivates through its utterly empty and forever reaching isolation. Subversive in taking a roaming ghost saga and trapping it within ethernet lines is freakishly predicative. A decade before Facebook or Twitter found global reach, Kurosawa insightfully captured their predatory manner.

People in Pulse kill themselves. Some suffer chronic dissociation. Others ruminate on the implications of death, considering if an untimely end is actually a release from an electronic life – or maybe it dooms them to live one for eternity. Few films expect this much of an audience. Pulse vents a paranoid fear that correlates to the now.

In deep, almost meditative thought, Pulse broadly considers whether internet communication is a replacement for actual interaction. Watch deeper and the camerawork often peers through glass as if filmed entirely from the inside of a computer monitor. The camera’s persistent use of physical, visual separation when characters are together only strengthens the (sometimes excessive) allegory Kurosawa writes in.

This is not mass audience entertainment – that’s where the 2006 American do over (dead set in the J-horror remake cycle) so thoroughly collapsed. With this original form, Pulse is a film suffering from manic depression over a technologically sustained society. People don’t inherently die, rather become remnants of what they were, sucked into the digital ether.

Pulse is a film suffering from manic depression over a technologically sustained society

Strong as all this is, and additionally terrifying for its forward-thinking acumen when viewed in 2017, Pulse is also a droner. Weaving erratically between characters and their plight, the extended takes begin to take their toll. Maybe that’s part of Pulse’s future consideration too – attention spans begin winding down as the internet swallows society. Regardless, Pulse doesn’t have the weight of a character to lean on. As Japanese citizens begin evaporating into nothing, empathy is minimal. The surrounding doomsday scenario crushes sympathy for individuals, focused more on the occurring cataclysm (again, maybe part of the prophetic nature, or potentially drawing on human qualities in general).

Pulse becomes a rather up-and-down horror epic. Captivating visages of ghosts re-imagine an entire cinematic mythos and surprisingly without an eastern religious curve. Later, Tokyo’s desertion happens on a subtle if grinding narrative touch. What was eight people in reality becomes seven as one is drawn moth-to-a-flame toward a modem screech. Seven turns into six, and so on, without being a prominent story fixture. People drift toward an online space where they become ensnared, unable to escape, and then everyone around them succumbs to the same lure. And now, you’re reading this, on the internet.

Video

Based on this presentation, a knowledgeable guess would say Pulse came together on 16mm film. That’s wrong. The likely DSLR source (transferred to a film stock) looks rather detestable on US Blu-ray. Noise/grain this thick and this compressed from a digital source is rare, and thinking of another example? Almost impossible without digging through review archives.

The print used isn’t helping. Numerous instances of dirt and damage reside, disheartening for a feature released in the new millennium. A stray hair visits the bottom of the frame a few times.

As far as Arrow’s encode, it’s problematic. The grain poses an insurmountable challenge, however. Noise gives Pulse the digital feel. Maybe that’s appropriate. Still, with awful black levels receding much of the film into gray, dark corners fill with heavy artifacts. Hardly a scene passes without DVD-like chunks of data swarming into a shadowed area. Some light ringing shows up in certain scenes.

Odd is a persistent occurrence of vertical interlacing. Again noticeable within shadows, the effect is small but gives Pulse a strange CRT-esque appearance, assuming the lines were horizontal. The effect on the imagery is negligible and it falls more into the realm of a visual curiosity, an artifact of the DSLR tech.

Audio

Japanese 2.0 (only) offers a few moments of separation. Dialog may drift off-screen or an eerie sound effect may spread notably between channels, but otherwise this centered stereo outing is fairly routine. Clean dialog and sparse ambient effects offer little aural excitement, if creating a frequently jarring, unsettling soundspace by design.

Extras

Arrow sits down with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa for an extensive 45-minute interview segment, discussing his entire body of work. Likewise, a discussion with director of photography Junichiro Hayashi runs a lengthy 25-minutes. In another new Arrow feature, the filmmakers from the recent Blair Witch discuss how Kurosawa’s work influenced their own for 17-minutes.

An archival making-of runs a beefy 41-minutes. It’s worth the time. Scenes from two premieres (Tokyo and Cannes) fill in the bonuses, along with four SFX breakdowns, trailers, and a short TV commercial cut-in for completion’s sake.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 20 Pulse screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 6,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.