In most horror films, the source of fear is usually something external seeking to harm and or kill the protagonists we identify with at the ...

Pulse and the Horrors of Loneliness

In most horror films, the source of fear is usually something external seeking to harm and or kill the protagonists we identify with at the center of the action. Think about the chestburster from Aliens, Michael’s homicidal rampage or any zombie movie you’ve ever seen and you get the idea. But the dynamic at work in these horror films is not the same software running beneath Kurosawa’s bleak thriller, Pulse. Instead of the fear of being attacked or annihilated, the fear that drives Pulse is the simple terror of being alone.

The film opens on Michi Kudo, a young woman who works for a plant sales company with her friends Sasano Junko, Toshio Yabe and Taguchi. Michi goes to check on Taguchi at home as he works on a disk of compiled sales data. When Michi arrives all seems well but in the middle of their conversation, Taguchi retreats to a side room and hangs himself abruptly. Junko, Yabe and Michi are baffled by their friend’s sudden suicide and turn to the disk for answers. What they find is an image of what looks to be Taguchi off to the left, staring at an embedded image of himself on his computer.
Enter the second storyline and econ student Kawashima Ryosuke who tries his hand at accessing the internet from his home PC. As he tries to log on using a dial up internet provider (Ur@nus) his computer is suddenly possessed and takes him to a website claiming to show videos of real ghosts. Freaked, Kawashima turns off the computer and flings the mouse and keyboard across the room.
So what does Taguchi’s death and Kawashima Ryosuke’s mysterious website have to do with one another? As it turns out they are all part of the same phenomenon as ghosts start to invade the world of the living via the internet. The website leads its viewers to a Forbidden Room, sealed off with red electrical tape where they confront he awful truth of their ghostly existence. These people either disappear or commit suicide, leaving an inky black spot behind as the only marker of their presence. After watching this film you’ll never look at an ordinary grease stain without repressing the urge to scream.

Kurosawa’s film is nothing if not bleak. According to Pulse we are all ghosts and technology thrives on a myth of connection while keeping us physically apart. This is best displayed in a computer model created a grad student, Yoshizaki. A series of white dots bounce back and forth across the dark landscape and as friend Harue explains to Kawashima, “If two dots get too close they die” The computer model is a startling allegory for human existence according to Kurosawa, as we are simultaneous drawn together and forced apart by technology and the loneliness of modernity.
What makes Pulse so frightening is the fact that the ghosts never actually do anything other than inspire fear and despair with their simple presence. They are merely bearers of the awful truth that no matter how hard we strive to make human connections we are ultimately and irrevocably alone.


  1. blueberry,
    I love horror but give me a good, subtle ghost movie anytime!