Pulse (2001)
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

What got you started on the internet?
Nothing in particular…
You wanted to connect with other people?
Maybe… I don’t really know…

You cannot begrudge Kurosawa for wanting to explain the film through the mouths of the characters, because then all that’s left for the viewer is to trudge through the misery of its implications. For a viewer that is slow to understand even the things that the film says outright (me), this works to circumnavigate uncertainties and leave us feeling tired and alone- watching Pulse has a very similar effect to walking to work on a crisp and decent morning and coming across a missing persons poster sellotaped just above the button at the pedestrian crossing near your house. It is possible that this attack on the viewer’s sense of safety and wellbeing is all one needs from Kurosawa, and that the internet in Pulseis simply a conceit to allow for new terrifying images, but it seems more that the director is cautiously examining his works in terms of what looks to be the final frontier for human connection. If we cannot stand to be, or through circumstances just cannot be with one another physically, we can now connect remotely through dots- abstract and immediate. Given the ability to share with countless lonely individuals, why would we not just help one another, listen to one another, and generally spread good will? Something like Unfriended would later examine how that utopianism would buckle under compulsory connection via enacted and complicit cruelty, a kind of hyperconnection that make-pretends remoteness (which in turn stokes said cruelty). The weird tragedy of Pulse is that it feels around for something to say not about bullying, but about lonely people who want to be warm. The new millennium must have been an incredibly exciting time for Kurosawa to establish the frameworks for a whole new era of despair.

People don’t really connect, you know
Like those dots simulating hauntings
We all live totally separately

Most of the film’s scares derive from its characters receiving live feeds of other people, lurking cold and alone in their own sad rooms. They jump back, recognising themselves in these images of blunt loneliness. The point here seems to be that even if we are to share and listen to one another in full sincerity, we will make ourselves sick with the pain of others- our own situation becomes real when it’s reflected back to us, like a depressive mirror stage. There is no sense of community in this despair (Nightmare on Elm Street), in fact it severs social bonds. These people withdraw further into themselves instead of helping one another through mutual loneliness. ‘If two dots get too close, they die.’ On discovering that their friend has hanged himself, a group of friends reflect that they had no idea he was so sad, and then offer super deadpan I suppose I think about it all the time and can see why he did it. Would knowing more about his mental state have saved this friend? Pulse seems to say that even if omniscience was possible there would be nothing we could do, and in fact knowing might be a bad thing. If this is the case then it is sort of the opposite of Unfriended– connectivity in Pulse could never be used as a malicious force because it is only ever a dead end. As something which finds us in and broadcasts us from the vulnerability of our own homes, there is inadequate distance for professional and social performance. We become doppelgängers, dots getting too close and then disappearing. If we look at the material quality of the ‘dots simulating hauntings’, there is something to be said for the voluntary breakdown of a physical body into information, and the infinite distribution of this ghostly self. Kurosawa does not seem interested in how this matters in terms of physical and digital bodies, but that we have the potential to become through our own pixelated worthlessness a kind of boundless plague.

Death was… eternal loneliness

When I was running today I took with me the appreciation that Auckland contains pocket after pocket of unused space, all overgrown with weeds. I thought about Kurosawa’s ‘dots’ and how if these pockets began to find one another and link up, they would form a big green wall of divine uselessness that would laugh at all of the big-scale things that humans value and hold onto and treasure. London is very much the same. I feel that these green useless spaces have the potential to grow and spread, and they are benign if not just indifferent to us and what we do. Their charm is that they are in no way a picturesque reminder of what the land once looked like, but rather evidence of what happens when we brutally landscape everything and then forget how to use it. The ‘natural way of things’ has long been lost, and we’re too far gone the other way. These are not ‘the good plants’, but ‘the bad plants’, and they only emerge when we are not doing the job we started as landscapers of the whole world. Victor Hugo called the land between the city and the country the ‘bastard countryside,’ and these are bastard plants and prankster ghosts. In Pulse there are no bastard plants to mock and outlive us. No rats and insects and birds. Instead, everybody lives in a sad apartment building where half the rooms are vacant, never to be filled, and on every block’s an abandoned factory. People die in Pulse all the time and they disintegrate not out of respect for the bodies, but because the people in it disappear and no one ever finds them. They turn into of all the noble things, oil stains.

Kurosawa’s films are the most inventive with pretend simplicity that you are likely to find outside of like Tarkovsky, but/and I find every time that I can barely stomach what they say and how they force the viewer with all of their soul to feel as well. I fundamentally disagree with every point they make, but am also familiar with every one of these points, because I think about them and squirm with fear every single day of my life. ‘I am cold.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s