MAY 7, 2009
The “J-horror” remake craze takes a lot of shit, and rightfully so. Part of the problem with a lot of them is that they don’t do anything different. Shutter, for example, is almost a shot for shot remake, and the only real change to The Eye was to change the ending (which sucked). So it’s kind of ironic that the remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (Japanese: Kairo) is probably the least-loved of the group, because it’s the only one that aimed to have its own identity.
Sure, the basic plot is the same, but having seen the remake had no real effect on my enjoyment of the original. The characters were all different, the MO for the ghosts was changed (I don’t think there’s a single cell phone in the entire movie, actually), and there was no real attempt to explain what was going on. Though had I seen the original first, I wouldn’t have expected the remake to follow suit, as it was a Dimension film and the original deals with actual themes and character development, two areas Dimension would eschew as soon as possible. But to be fair, at least they were TRYING to make their own movie, instead of blindly copying it like so many others have done.
As such, those who had seen and liked the remake will probably be bored to tears with this one. With the emphasis on human drama (the movie is basically a metaphor for loneliness), there isn’t as much traditional horror as the remake, or even other original J-horror films. Most of the deaths occur off-screen (in one case, this is maddening, as the character seems to just sort of die one day, whereas everyone else obviously committed suicide), and most of the ghosts we see are just sort of chilling in the background.
And honestly, I didn’t mind that. There are only so many times I can see a soaking wet long haired girl making weird noises and crawling around, so I liked the change of pace within well-worn territory (ghosts in the machine, essentially). The problem is, the movie is too goddamn long. It’s literally a minute shy of two hours, when 90 minutes would have sufficed. For example, there’s a scene where one of the lead characters discovers his computer has seemingly come to life on its own and loaded up a webpage. He gets scared and scatters the parts of his computer. Then, not 10 minutes later, he does the whole thing again, after purposely loading the page to get a screenshot of it. With some clever editing, or even some minor rewriting, this would feel a lot less repetitive, and the movie as a whole would be shorter. And it’s not even a “it gets boring” thing (in fact, I even stayed awake the entire time! No rewinding or “eh it was only a minute” stuff here!), it’s that it’s so long that you start to lose the thrust of the story, and the points that Kurosawa is trying to get across become a bit more muddled than they would be had the film been a bit more focused.
Another issue I had was the rather botched sense of the world becoming empty. We never really see a fully “living” Tokyo; it seems strangely under-populated right from the start. On more than one occasion, I wasn’t aware that the character was supposed to be scared that no one was around, because to my eyes, it wasn’t any different than it was in the earlier parts of the film. Sure, the final scenes pack a punch - our only two survivors drive around a completely empty city, as buildings burn and planes crash (yet when their car breaks down they fix it instead of simply taking one of what should be hundreds left behind); it’s a terrific sequence. But it would have been even better had the same areas been seen with dozens of people and cars bustling about.
Otherwise, it’s definitely one of the better examples of the genre. I love the idea of someone using the internet for the first time (he even installs an ISP! Who has done that since 1997?), and there are other little humorous moments sprinkled throughout the film that give it a unique character. And the abrupt suicide scenes work exactly as intended, which is good (beats the remake’s clueless notion that you need to have a lengthy setup to a character’s demise when their name isn’t Kristen Bell or Ian Somerhalder). And Kurosawa, unlike many of his peers, uses horror devices when necessary to tell his story, instead of building it around trailer-ready set pieces and fake scares.
The DVD has an OK 40 minute-ish behind the scenes piece, which is mainly Kurosawa planning shots and dressing the set. He speaks directly on the film’s ideas every now and then, making it worth your while, and it’s the only extra of note on the disc, so you might as well watch it if you’ve already watched the two hour film. And it’s funny, as it was released by Magnolia, I was suspicious of the quality/accuracy of the subtitles (following the Let The Right One In debacle). And while I can’t speak on their translation merits, I can definitely say that they did a piss-poor job of syncing them to the audio. They run sort of like the close captions on a live broadcast. It’s fine when someone says a single word and there’s no dialogue for another 30 seconds, but it’s damn annoying and occasionally confusing during normal conversations, as you might get a bit lost as to who is saying what. Magnolia seems to have a good eye for picking up and distributing top notch genre fare (they also gave us Severance and The Host), but for some reason, I guess subtitles are their Achilles heel. Speaking of which - has anyone found the “English (Theatrical)” subtitles that they promised for LTROI? I still haven’t bought it, getting kind of impatient...
What say you?