Sunday, October 11, 2015

Month of Horror Blind Spots: Kairo (Pulse)




I'm taking this October to finally get around to checking out those movies/genres I've neglected up until now.  I call these my horror blind spots, and it's time for me to finally give them a look. 

Warning:  this review has some pretty heavy spoilers.  You've been warned! 

I suppose rather than refer to this as my Asian horror week, I should have been more specific and called it Japanese horror week.  It wasn't intentional, but all of my selections for this week have been from Japan.  I have gotten lucky, however, in that I've seen some pretty contrasting styles my choices.  Battle Royale is fast-paced and kinetic, while Ju-On is more psychological and methodical (and, if I'm being honest, kind of dull).  With two polar opposites, I was intrigued to see where Kairo, my final film for the week, would land on the spectrum.  

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and released in 2001, Kairo (or Pulse) tells parallel stories of Kudo and Ryosuke.  Kudo's coworkers begin to be haunted by ghosts , either via the internet or found in rooms marked with red tape.  Ryosuke, a college student, sees the same thing happening to students at his school.  Anyone who comes into direct contact with these ghosts either commits suicide or eventually disintegrates into a pile of ash.   Kudo and Ryosuke's stories converge as more and more people are affecting by this spreading plague of ghosts, as they discover why the dead are returning and the dark secret about the afterlife.

If Battle Royale is brutal, and Ju-On is boring, I think the best way to describe Kairo would be bleak.  This is a movie that posits two things about the afterlife (SPOILERS):  1.  There is only so much space in afterlife, and ghosts are coming into our world because that space has run out.  2.  The afterlife sucks.  Not in a "fire and brimstone" kind of way, but rather in a "you spend eternity alone and lonely" kind of way.  That is a pretty terrifying notion, and one that I don't think I've ever seen presented before.  Sure, plenty of people believe that when you die, that's it, and that there is no heaven, hell, or any other kind of afterlife.  There's just nothing.  But I don't know of anyone who believes that you'd be conscious of this nothingness.

I also have to respect the scope of the movie.  Most supernatural movies are small, affecting a house, or a relatively small group of people.  In Kairo, by the end of the movie it looks as though the entire planet is effectively haunted, and very few people, if anyone will come out the other side.

This is one of those movies that didn't scare me due to camera work, special effects, or specific set pieces.  The movie's philosophy is what's truly scary.  Other movies make you afraid how how you are going to die.  You might get your head chopped off, or you might be eaten alive by some hideous creature.  Kairo makes you afraid of death itself.  It doesn't really matter how you die, because when that's over it's the rest of eternity that's really going to fucking suck.

Needless to say, while I'm glad that I included Kairo in my list for this week, I'm happy to be moving on to horror that won't give me any further existential crises.  In fact, next week I'll be starting my Vincent Price week, so I feel like in comparison these movies will be downright chipper.  Stay tuned, and thanks for joining me for Asian horror week. 

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