The Shadow That Floats on the Floor
Logical, with a moment’s thought, that tech-obsessed Japan’s science-gone-terribly-wrong horror films have morphed like Mothra, from monsters released or mutants created by atomic testing (and battled by conventionally armed military units), to become university students threatened by chip technology. Viewers this side of the Pacific see stuff like Pulse secondhand in remakes gussied up with the fanciest special effects that money can buy. Therefore, it's perhaps worthwhile to catch writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s English-subtitled 2001 original as a point of comparison with what Wes Craven will do with it.
The menace comes, not through video cassettes or floppies or cell phone calls this time around, but is simply recorded and broadcast fuzzily from a Website that, more than any virus or worm, can switch on hardware by itself and show up on monitors. Dread drummed up by an unexceptionally ominous Takeshi Haketa score, plot and onscreen monitor images (including a deadly dot game) never resolve into anything clear enough to deliver the goods on a promising but unrealized premise.
With none of America’s slasher-stalker gore, the lined computer screens appear to show the doomed or disappeared or dead, alone in their apartments and yet not alone. In jerky, zapped moments, they approach a camera-eye but cannot be pinpointed, sometimes hooded in what looks laughably like a plain old plastic bag, sometimes accompanied by phantoms solid enough to rest corporeal arms on, moving in stylized slow motion and croaking “Help me” or cautioning against The Forbidden Room.
In this bare concrete world lighted flat grey-white through windows under a featureless sky, it is difficult to tell what happens in the physical universe, what on a chip, and what in someone’s mind. The warned-against room, for instance, is usually red duct-taped shut by an unknown woman, and the guess is that there are several such chambers, sealed more to pique audience curiosity than for any plot contribution.
The lack of sharp story focus is probably deliberate, for either or both of two reasons. As, with campily inadequate acting technique, students, lab supervisors and Sunny Plant Sales workers inefficiently try to solve the puzzle, one of them throws out the theory that, the ghost world overpopulated, the shades overflow into the realm of human beings, but not to kill anyone, for that would crowd their own sphere even more.
However, the dark human wall outlines or oil-spill floor smears do relate to deaths, and perhaps the viewer is meant to recall radiation-silhouettes in Japan’s A-bombed cities. This tale is flashback, ineptly done in that an opening frame is forgotten until explained by a closing one a second or so after the underlined crash of a flaming four-propeller plane, a Rorschach World War Two bomber. Facing away seaward over a taffrail and sandwiched by two overhead zooms hinting the vessel’s watery isolation, a woman goes back over events which deprived her of mother (Jun Fubuki) and three work companions (Kenji Mizuhashi, Masatoshi Matsuo, Kurume Arisaka). Michi Kudo (Kumiko Aso) travels with the black wall-blob that once was recent friend Ryosuke Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato), who himself had lost his friend Harue Karasawa (Koyuki). On this skeleton-crew ship, the Captain (Kôji Yakusho) steams “as far as we can . . . for Latin America,” though that area’s survivors’ radio signals grow steadily weaker.
Consciously, unconsciously, or not at all, Pulse lies in a respected line of cautionary tales like The Last Man on Earth and its superior remake (from a Richard Matheson story) The Omega Man, On the Beach, cult black comedy A Boy and His Dog, and many domestic and foreign others. In this film of tone as opposed to slam-bang shock, a devastated deserted Tokyo is not toast but, rather, unseasoned tofu. One waits for something to happen, anything, but there is little beyond running around the germ of an idea, a would-be sinister suggestion that never clarifies itself or draws conclusions from what one assumes is its blurred premise.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures; not rated by MPAA.)