Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Various Apocalypses Part 4: Kairo/Pulse

A ship in the ocean. Extreme high shot, perpendicular. Silence. An image of immediately troubling loneliness.

Cut to contemporary Tokyo. A group of twenty somethings worried about the sudden drop in communication of one of their number investigate. His apartment is as it was but there is a vaguely human shaped stain on the wall. For a moment  in the dark this appears to morph back into their friend with a noose around his neck. Then it's just the stain again.

Case by case this seems to be happening all around the city. Suicides and disappearances. A clue appears in the form of a website that imposes itself on users with the invitiation: do you want to meet a ghost? We follow one internet illiterate student (this is 2001) to his university tech services department and meets Harue who tries to sort out the problem of the site which, by now doesn't even need the modem on to appear.

Across town, Michi is trying to work out what's happening to her friends. We see what happens to one of them as he encounters one of the stains on the walls that has come to life. The scene is unrelentingly strange and terrifying, removing all the control we think we have over it at its start until we feel like screaming along with the boy in the room.

In other settings we see similarly disturbing things. One of the worst is made from the simplest of ingredients. A computer screen playing video of a human figure walking across a room. Just before it gets to the other side the loop replays and its back to where it started.

There is little plot to this film as it is not fuelled by plot. It is a situation that once revealed only needs to keep developing. Althought made within the time frame of the big wave of J-horror (1997-2003) it doesn't belong among the Ringus and Ju-Ons with their clock-beating survival or ghost exorcising climaxes. Kairo's brief is the notion of what might happen if we keep ignoring each other, nurturing isolation and loneliness. By the time one character, literally reaching out to her friend, explodes into a cloud of swirling ashes (or is it insects?) we sense we are beyond hope.

Shot on DV which carefully only ever falls short of a film quality image, we are in a world where dark stains can look like people for a few seconds and people who shoot themselves in the head don't seem to even need to bleed anymore. Ghosts wander the streets, indistinguishable from the living. This warm-toned but increasingly grimy world is coming to an end and there is nothing to be done about it.

This film contains my two favourite moments of CGI. A hercules transport aircraft crashing which is as gutpunching as it is spectacular and, more poignantly and a lot less flashily, a figure in the background of a shot, climbing a tower and leaping off. Perhaps I should add a third as we end (this is not a spoiler) with the image that began the film: the gigantic silent ocean rippling on.

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