Friday, August 13, 2010

Kairo (Pulse) (2001)
JAPAN --- horror

Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Since the information super highway invaded our homes for good about a little over a decade ago, it was never predicted that people would become further disenchanted from each other, but rather they would become closer. After all, a technology that takes a person from his or her bedroom in Denver, Colorado to talk to someone from Melbourne, Australia in an Internet cafĂ© seems to be the ideal tool for those who would never be fortunate to travel. In this age of Facebook, MySpace, and every other kind of social networking, are we really connecting to each other? In director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s insightfully spooky social commentary "Kairo" (Pulse), we see that that very same technology could have much darker ramifications than anyone would have predicted.

The film starts with a girl named Kudo Michi, who works in a floral shop and whose coworker and friend has been missing for days. She gets to the guys apartment only to find he’s committed suicide, within a few minutes of her being there, as he was alive when she arrived. She does however recover a computer disk from the apartment, one that her friend takes a look at, which leads him to a strange website. The website shows him a picture of his deceased friend standing in the shadows of his apartment, and then leads to the picture going back into infinity. This freaks him out and he goes to investigate, being lead to a room in the building where he confronts a mysterious woman in the shadows. He too goes missing for days and eventually ends up like his friend, dead.

While this is going on we’re also introduced to a new character, Ryosuke Kawashima who is a university student and a virgin to the internet. The character is not computer savvy and shows he has trouble getting connected, which is what makes it so eerie once he gets on for the first time and finds the exact same weird website that Michi’s coworker encountered. This time however, it’s another room but there are figures standing in the shadows, and finally a message appears: “Would you like to meet a ghost?”. Kawashima immediately shuts the computer off from fear. Later, the PC comes back on by itself connecting to the net and returning to the strange site on its own, which leads Kawashima to get some help into what’s going on. He seeks the assistance of someone from his university Computer Science department. He meets a beautiful IT student named Karasawa Harue, who listens to his problem and instructs him how to track down the source of the website.

Michi and her friend are freaked out by the events occurring to their friends and seemingly to people all over Toyko. People are missing all over town, and she and her coworker investigate their friend only to find the same taped up room. This time Michi sees her friend suffer from the room’s affects first hand, as her friend slips into a state of depression and loneliness for no apparent reason, eventually turning into a black ashy stain on the wall. Meanwhile, Kawashima and Harue investigate the origin of the website, until Harue’s partner in the lab reveals to Kawashima, it’s plausible, strange, and seemingly ominous origin. All this ultimately leads to an apocalyptic ending.

I warn those looking for a technophobic essay to stay clear of this one. Nor does it simply objectify supernatural goings on with a technological device like other J-horror films have done to death. Kurosawa makes a bold intelligent horror film, layered with many levels of thought. Characters are seen wearing yellow mostly before they’re lonely and red seems to be the fashion of choice for those who’ve been to the “forbidden room”. The film seems to be one of those in a crop of doomy late 90’s era parables foretelling Y2K or the end-of-the-world. Kairo tells two parallel stories of people who stumble upon a dark service of the Internet that inhabits the undead souls. It’s the last stop for the celestial search for a place to belong as it would seem that George Romero was right, when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth. Except in this case, they’ve found a unique way to do that instead of coming back in the same old decayed mortal coils. Don’t let me steer you wrong, this isn’t a zombie epic, nor is it a ghost story set in a haunted house. It’s much more sophisticated and introspective. It’s more so about isolation and loneliness, the very thing that technology was supposed to attempt to end. The moral message I gather from the film is that we are all really alone in this world and in the next. It is an unfortunate truth, that every one of us is an individual spirit, and no matter how much we attempt to reach out and touch someone, we will still only be ourselves, alone.