Yurei: Kairo

Hello, and welcome to night two of Berryz Kyuuden's trail of Japanese horror. This time we'll be delving into the movie Kairo, or Pulse, by another Japanese cinema legend, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The movie was released in 2001, and served to provoke thoughts as to wether or not the digital revolution, which was well underway by this point, was really bringing the world closer together.

This movie has been reccomended to me by several people since I announced plans to write these reviews, and so I was intrigued. I'd never seen the movie before, and only heard of it by name before. I went into this movie not knowing what to expect. But whatever preconceptions I had before were very different from what this movie turned into.

This movie isn't a traditional ghost story, while the plot undoubtadly places it in that genre. The focus, rather than creating a conventional horror movie, seemed to be more on using thematic and symbolic elements to create a point. It was as much an artistic movie as it was a horror movie. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, for now, let's discuss the plot.

The movie follows two parralel, yet contrasting story lines for most of the movie. On the first hand we have the story of Kudo Michi, a young woman working for a small company growing and selling plants in Tokyo city. One of her co-workers, Taguchi, hasn't been coming to work for several days and when she investigates by visiting his apartment she discovers him physically sound, but slightly distracted. However, when she turns her back for a moment and follows him into the next room, she discovers he has hung himself.

Then on the other hand we have the story of Kawashima Ryosuke, a student who knows nothing about computers who decides to get access to the internet "because everyone else is doing it". His computer somehow connects on it's own to a series of webcam feeds showing depressed people sitting in dark rooms. And then the words "Do you want to meet a ghost?" appear on screen. He quickly turns the browser off. But while he sleeps, the computer by his bedside randomly starts dialing-up on it's own

These two characters continue on their own paths, each fulfilling the narrative yin to the other's yang, although for most of the movie neither paths cross. Michi and her colleagues think over Taguchi's death, and how odd it was. And Kawashima seeks help from a young woman in the computer sciences department who appears to be very interested in his 'ghostly encounter'.

Michi's colleague Yabe, later that night recieves a call fromt he deceased Taguchi and just hears his voice repeating, "Help me" over and over. And so Yabe goes to pay a visit to the deceased's apartment. On the wall in the appartment in the exact spot where Taguchi had killed himself is a dark figure - reminiscent, perhaps, of the shadows burned into the ground and the walls of people vaporised in the atomic bombing at Hiroshima. When Yabe goes to leave his attention is caught by a door which has been sealed off with red tape - the so called "Forbidden Room". Curiosity gets the better of him, and he removes the tape and enters, where he is attacked by a ghostly woman.

Meanwhile, Kawashima at home experiences the same phenomena that he had before, and the computer dials up on it's own, and accesses the same webcam stream. This time he follows the advice of Harue, the girl he met in the computer lab, and makes sure to record the address of the page with a useful click of the Print Screen key. However, he quickly turns the computer off in terror after he witnesses the images of a man sitting with a black bag over his head with the words "help me" scrawled all over the walls behind him.

Following his experience in the room, Yabe becomes incredibly down and distracted. And when Michi inquires as to what happened to him, he only warns her not to enter the room with the red tape before suffering an emotional breakdown. She later recieves a call from him, with the words "help me" once again being repeated over and over, but when she arrives at his apartment in response to the call he is nowhere to be found - only leaving a mysterious black-stain figure on the wall in much the same way that Taguchi did.

Throughout most of this movie we are offered little explanation as to what is happening or why, but when Kawashima reports back to Harue, he learns that she is as stumped as he, and instead tells him to speak to another student who theorizes that the spirit world has filled to capacity with the ghosts of people from thoughout the ages, and are now spilling over into the physical world. This idea is then continued later when Harue suggests that the ghosts wouldn't want to make more ghosts, but would instead work to make mankind invisable by trapping them inside their own loneliness.

By this point red-taped doors are appearing throughout the city, and more and more people are vanishing, including Michi's boss. Her last colleague, Junko, finds herself wandering into one of them and she too is attacked by a ghostly spectre, before being rescued by Michi. But Junko also starts to feel trapped and lonely, and she too dissapears leaving only the dark figure.

As Tokyo becomes gradually more and more empty, Michi decides to run away, everyone she knows having vanished themselves. It's then she runs into Kawashima, who had been wandering the empty city searching for Harue who had gone missing. Kawashima repairs her car, and the two decide to search for Harue together, in the hopes of finding other people who have survived. When they do run in to her in an abandoned factory near her apartment, she removes a black bag from her head, like the man in the webcam feed, and shoots herself.

Kawashima then wanders into a red-taped room himself, and he is attacked by a ghostly figure who claims "Death was eternal loneliness" and pleads "help me". Michi tries to take him away, to escape and find any survivors, but Kawashima too soon fades away leaving Michi, and the Captain of the boat they escaped on, the only two survivors.

So, now that that's over with, what exactly was it that made this movie so interesting? Well, it plays heavily on the theme of loneliness and isolation to the point where I would say that is what the movie is about. The whole horror story is just a vehicle for Kurosawa to fill with these themes. And the fact that nothing is explained to the viewer, other than that which helps to create that theme, throughout the movie. When Taguchi died, Kurosawa made no attempt to explain why this character had killed himself. It just happened, no warning, no explanation. That helped to create a strange feeling of horror about the whole situation. If the character had been psychotic and gone around stabbing our main characters, that wouldn't have been nearly as frightening as how random and mysterious Taguchi's death was.

Then there's the ghosts. Our characters don't try to investigate what is happening, they don't try to stop it from happening, they are regular people trying to survive alone in an emptying city. And because we only see these characters we have no idea of the scale of what is actually happening, until the end of the movie when they drive through the streets of Tokyo and not a single soul is around. That is uncomfortable, because you start to realise just how alone the characters actually are, and just how global this phenomena has actually become - rather than just a local ghost haunting. Even after the movie is over we have no idea just how widespread the effects have become - although we're given a clue when a military plane flies overhead and crashes into the city, explosion and all - the pilots having apparently faded into loneliness and isolation with the rest of humanity.

The soundtrack for the movie is also incredible. It's just as empty as the streets. Very little of the movie has any background music whatsoever, and the silence is eery.

In fact, everything about this movie was more artistic than anything else. The camera work, with the ghosts being purposely blurred and out of focus, as though not quite there. Even some angles and styles that many conventional directors might not make use of, including masking shots and one scene where the camera is unfixed turns between Harue and a computer screen, rather than cutting directly to each shot, it shows the transition.

The movie is artistic and thematic, which makes it interesting and a good movie I'd reccomend, because it's through these themes that it becomes scary. But even as far as Japanese horror movies go it's unusual. Something which you wouldn't expect to be scary is because the acting - which might I add wasn't too great; characters seemed a little unresponsive at times - and the diricting, writing and editing all came together to create a style that was chillingly minimalist.

Anyway, be sure to check again tommorow for the third part of this series. Until next time, goodnight.


Alita said...

Yeah I think the loneliness was what really got me. And the fact that everone now uses technology so it made it that much more creepier to have ghosts (whose world was getting too full) decide to just prey on the weakness of humans and make them fade away into loneliness.

I liked that it wasn't a traditional ghost story but was that much creepier for what it was.

I would recommend the remake just because they did get a lot right. Just... the English director threw in the red tape randomly and in an interview then admitted he had no clue what the meaning behind it was just that it had been in the original.

I haven't seen the original in a while so I should rent it sometime from my local Tsutaya (Japanese version of Blockbuster).

Hmm now to speculate on what else you might review. Can't be Tale of Two Sisters since that isn't Japanese. Audition? Though I wouldn't really consider that horror. Ju-On, or Ju-Rei are good ones.

Dran said...

Yeah. I read that the remake bore very little resemblence to the original. Dunno if that means it will be a decent movie in it's own right, or just a failed remake, but I might give it a try.

I have been looking at Audition, but I'm not sure that it will feature in this list. ;)

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