GENRE: Another Japanese ghost story
The pitch: The latest example of "J-horror" -- or Japanese horror imports like The Ring -- closely follows the freshly established formula. Here, a computer-illiterate college student (Haruhiko Kato) and young plant nursery employee (Kumiko Aso) discover a website that connects the living with ghosts -- and drives its users to suicide.
Long-haired ghost chick: Like in The Grudge and Dark Water, a female apparition haunts the heroes, but she's just one of a mixed-gender populace of ghosts in the machines.
Modern culture critique: Comparable to The Ring's attacks on TV and video culture, Pulse targets computers and the Internet, which provides a kind of new level of the afterlife. Scary modem noises, spooky cell phone messages and a confrontation in a machine factory cultivate an anti-machine mood.
Money shots: In a darkened room, a female spirit approaches in sinister slow-motion. The heroes see a bank of computers with different wraiths on each screen. A plane crashes in full view of the heroine. Multiple images near the end depict teeming Tokyo turned eerily empty.
Body count: The four on-screen suicides include a hanging, a grisly leap and two self-inflicted gunshots. Several people simply melt into shadowy stains on the wall, and one disintegrates into little fragments that blow out the window.
Theme in a nutshell: "People can't really connect, you know." With its persistent mood of loneliness and isolation, at times Pulse plays like a haunted, high-tech rendition of "Eleanor Rigby."
Hit single: Despite the ominous, heavy-handed soundtrack music, the closing credits feature "Lay Down My Arms" by Cocco, a bouncy piece of Japanese pop comparable to Shonen Knife.
Burning question: Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, one of the less violent, more philosophical J-horror directors, is no relation to Akira Kurosawa, acclaimed filmmaker of The Seven Samurai and more of the world's great movies.
U.S. remake on the way?: You betcha. Miramax plans to release a version starring "Veronica Mars'" Kristen Bell and "Lost" casualty Ian Somerhalder on March 3, 2006.
The bottom line: Released four years ago in Japan, Pulse initially proves slow and familiar, and its cultural attitudes toward suicide probably don't fully translate to this side of the Pacific. The final section, however, strays from J-horror convention to generate a genuinely apocalyptic atmosphere that can set your pulse racing. Opens Fri., Dec. 16, at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
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