Posts Tagged ‘J-Horror’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:58:57

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 Japanese Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps


Award-winning filmmaker, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is one of the more interesting contributors to the J-Horror cycle (a subgenre for which I admit to having no particular affection), and Pulse (Kairo) might very well be his finest entry of them all. Setting his story in the burgeoning internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives.

The basic story is relatively simple: A group of young people in Tokyo begin to experience strange phenomena involving missing friends and co-workers and a mysterious website which asks the compelling question, “Do you want to meet a ghost?” After the unexpected suicides of several friends, three strangers set out to explore a city which is growing emptier by the day, and to solve the mystery of what lies within a forbidden room in an abandoned construction site, mysteriously sealed shut with red packing tape.

One wishes that the film had focused on fewer people so that the characters could have been developed in a more intimate manner, but Junichiro Hayashi’s cinematography often provides enough existential dread to sustain our interests even if the characterizations fall short. Those who have seen Hideo Nakata Ring (Ringu) and Dark Water will remember Hayashi’s work on those films and can expect more of the same here as it sets a dark and unsettling tone which lingers long after the movie is over.
Opinion is bound to be split between those who see the film as ahead of its time and those who consider it outdated (which it admittedly is from a technology standpoint), but it is probably worth seeing if only to decide which group you happen to fall into.


The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket and what is presumably the film’s original one sheet artwork. This is one of those occasions when Arrow’s newly commissioned artwork is vastly superior (but this tends to be the case with their releases of Japanese titles). As is their custom, they also include an attractive booklet that features an essay on the film by Chuck Stephens entitled “The Smudge.” It should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film and adds value to the modest package.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]


The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.


Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

Dark cinematography is wonderfully effective when it is done correctly (or at least in a certain manner). I’m thinking of such titles as David Fincher’s Seven and the inky blacks that saturate the image thanks to the bleach bypass process. However, the murkiness that swallows so many J-Horror titles is less attractive. Details never seem to be at the level they should be and one sometimes wonders what they are even seeing. This might be intentional, but if this methodology was successful, the viewer wouldn’t be wondering whether or not they were watching an inferior transfer. This particular title is a case in point.

Arrow’s transfer is probably faithful to the original source, but it is difficult to know if this might look better with a new scan of the source materials. The grainy image is dark and murky with limited detail and a narrow range of color, but it is superior to the previous DVD transfers that have been released. Frankly, if the “shot through dirty linen” look is intentional, it was a bad choice on Kurosawa’s part (but I suppose that this is simply one person’s subjective opinion). The booklet claims that the digital source was supplied by Kadokawa Pictures, and one imagines that it could have seen marginal improvement had they taken the time to rescan the film at a higher resolution. Clarity isn’t at all what it should be (nor is it consistent). Contrast is relatively nonexistent and black levels are faded and cloudy. Artifacts are ridiculously apparent as well, and this is especially frustrating.

Having said this, it doesn’t seem worth holding one’s breath until something better comes along.


Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The Japanese Linear PCM audio transfer won’t give your speaker systems much of a workout, but this is a solid representation of the original source and is relatively flawless.


Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Broken Circuits – (HD) – (43:53)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s interview is more comprehensive in scope than one might expect, and one expects that most cinephiles will agree that it is the strongest supplement on the disc. His career is discussed at length as the production of Pulse. One doesn’t really even have to be a fan of the film or the director to find this conversation interesting.

Creepy Images – (HD) – (25:03)

Junichiro Hayashi’s shorter and slightly less comprehensive interview is nonetheless incredibly informative as the cinematographer reminisces about his collaborative relationship with Kiyoshi Kurosawa (and even briefly discusses Kiju Yoshida). Pulse is given the most in-depth consideration as Hayashi reveals a few interesting anecdotal revelations that should be of special interest to fans of the film.

The Horror of Isolation – (HD) – (17:11)

Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (You’re Next, Blair Witch) discuss their admiration for Kiyoshi Kurosawa and for Pulse in particular as they reveal how the film has had an influence on their work. While their analysis of Kurosawa’s work is interesting enough, one cannot help but think that this featurette would be more interesting if these two filmmakers actually made better films. However, some of their insights do manage to add to one’s appreciation of Pulse, and the interview is worth watching for this reason alone.

The Making of Pulse – (SD) – (41:03)

This is the sort of EPK bundle one expects upon a film’s release, but this manages to be more interesting than anyone has a right to expect due to the included “behind the scenes” footage contained within what is essentially a hodgepodge of cast and crew interviews and trailers for the film. The interviews never really delve past the surface of the material and have obviously been composed to sell the film. However, Kurosawa’s interviews do manage to be rather interesting at times.

Special Effects Breakdown Featurettes:

These short special effects featurettes give fans the opportunity to discover some general information about what went into the special effects included in the following scenes:

The Suicide Jump – (SD) – (06:22)

Harue’s Death Scene – (SD) – (05:02)

Junko’s Death Scene – (SD) – (04:31)

Dark Room Scenes – (SD) – (10:18)

Tokyo Premiere Introduction – (SD) – (07:04)

This is archival footage of Kurosawa and his three primary actors introducing the preview screening in Tokyo. These participants discuss their involvement in a rather general manner, and nothing here really adds to one’s knowledge about (or appreciation of) the film. However, fans will welcome the inclusion of this introduction if only as an artifact from the film’s initial release.

Cannes Film Festival – (SD) – (02:57)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Haruhiko Kato introduce Pulse at the Cannes Film Festival. Their speech is short, sweet, and not at all revealing. However, it is nice to have here as a kind of curiosity (especially if you happen to admire the film or its director).

TV Spots – (SD) – (04:15)

These television spots are really more interesting than effective, but many will find them to be a fun addition to the disc.

NHK Station IDs – (SD) – (00:15)

The principal actors appear in these station IDs, and it is difficult to know exactly what to make of them.


Final Words:

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse offers a slightly disappointing image transfer that is nonetheless superior to all of the previous home video releases. Their supplemental package sweetens the deal just enough to warrant a recommendation to fans of the J-horror sub-genre.


Review by: Devon Powell



Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:41:05

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC Video)

Main Audio: 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio (3584 kbps / 48 kHz / 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.94 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released on DVD but this is the film’s Blu-ray debut in North America.


“The remake thing did not happen just for Asian horror remakes, Hitchcock remade [one of] his own British thrillers. Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were well re-made—or cleverly adapted. In that sense, I am honored that three of my films, Jyoyu-rei, Ringu, and Dark Water were re-made. At the same time, I did have mixed feelings like, “Why can’t my Japanese original films [sic] be released in the US first?” –Hideo Nakata (, April 29, 2011)

Personally, it is difficult not to agree with Nakata—especially considering the fact that his originals work quite well on their own. This is especially true of Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara). Nakata’s original film towers high above the re-make which is barely even remembered by audiences today. It is merely a footnote in J-Horror history (and Hollywood’s J-Horror remake craze). Actually, it wouldn’t be completely inappropriate to give Nakata the lion’s share of the credit for ushering J-Horror into America’s collective consciousness. In any case, it was after terrifying worldwide audiences with the blockbuster classic Ringu and its sequel that the director returned to the genre with Dark Water—another highly atmospheric tale of the supernatural. It became yet another critically acclaimed hit. However, it did not earn the same level of worldwide praise. David Kalat wrote of this in the limited edition booklet included in this Arrow release:

“Good as it is—brilliant, heart-aching, and anguished—by 2002, Dark Water was simply one of many. Ring [Ringu] had changed the world. And in the world that it had changed, it was no longer possible for one lone movie to stand out so distinctively. J-Horror had successfully littered the world with numberless copies of itself.” – David Kalat (Dead Wet Girls, Liner Essay, 2016)

Even a surface level examination will uncover many obvious connections to Ringu. In addition to the fact that Hideo Nakata was the primary creative force behind both projects, Dark Water was based upon “Fuyu suri mizu” (“Floating Waters”) which was a short story by Koji Suzuki (who had written the novel that Ringu was based upon). The film and was also beautifully shot by Jun’ichirô Hayashi—the same cinematographer who shot Ringu (not to mention Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse). However, Dark Water is an entirely different kind of thriller.

The story follows Yoshimi, a single mother struggling to win sole custody of her only child, Ikuko. When they move into a new home within a dilapidated and long-forgotten apartment complex, Yoshimi begins to experience startling visions and unexplainable sounds, calling her mental well-being into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko but perhaps their lives as well. Dark Water successfully merges spine-tingling tension with a family’s heart-wrenching emotional struggle. The result is a subtly unsettling Japanese horror film that mixes psychological terror with the supernatural in interesting ways.


The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses their Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with reversible film-related artwork. There is a newly commissioned Manga-book style cover by Peter Strain that actually surpasses the film’s original one-sheet (this is rare). This is one of Arrow’s best designs but it is nice that Arrow has also offered fans the opportunity to utilize alternative artwork that makes use of one of the film’s original one-sheet design. This reviewer usually opts to flip the sleeve to feature the one sheet art, but this is a rare exception. There is also an attractive booklet that includes an interesting essay by David Kalat (author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge, and Beyond) and an examination of the American remake by Michael Gingold. These essays are enhanced with a number of production stills.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]


The animated menus utilize footage from the film and music from the score. They are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.


Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

Dark Water is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio… The high-definition master was made available by Kadokawa Pictures. Additional restoration work was performed at Deluxe Restoration, London to remove dirt and debris and improve overall picture stability.” –Liner Notes

It is impossible to know to what extent the film has been cleaned up but it must be said that Arrow’s “restored” transfer looks less than completely satisfying. It is difficult to judge if the issues are due to inadequacies in the original source print or if they are the result of an older high definition transfer that was never meant for Blu-ray release. Detail is limited and less striking than one expects from Arrow but the relatively high bitrate used for the image transfer has kept distracting compression anomalies at bay.


Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc’s robust 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio mix showcases the film’s impressive yet understated sound design masterfully without showing its seams and Kawai’s score is given not only room to breathe but space to play with the viewer’s mind. It is quite difficult for this English-speaking viewer to testify about the clarity of the Japanese dialogue but it should be said that it is well mixed and prioritized. The overall experience of this solid sound transfer is most effective.


Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow has provided over 1 hour and 38 minutes of video based supplemental material here for fans of the film to enjoy and although the merit of these short programs vary, each is a welcome addition to the disc. Upon final analysis, one feels that the disc might not live up to some of Arrow’s other releases but this might be because they have set the mark so high in the past. In any case, there isn’t any doubt that the disc offers more than most Blu-rays.

Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings, and Water – (26:03)

Those initially reluctant to indulge in Hideo Nakata’s interview because it is in Japanese will be pleasantly surprised. While watching an interview in a foreign language can be more challenging than watching an image driven film, Nakata is consistently engaging as he speaks about his career as a film director, working on Ringu and Dark Water, and his feelings about the horror genre in general.

Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors – (20:20)

Koji Suzuki’s interview is equally engaging. Japan’s “preeminent horror novelist” discusses his writing career and how he became known as a horror author. He also talks at length about his work with Hideo Nakata on both Ringu and Dark Water. This interview should thrill fans of either one of these films (and fans of Suzuki’s writing).

Junichiro Hayashi: Visualizing Horror – (19:16)

Also engaging—though admittedly to a lesser degree—is this interview with Junichiro Hayashi about his career as a cinematography, the methodology of being a cinematographer in Japan, his collaboration with Hideo Nakata, and his aversion to horror films. There is quite a bit of good information here, and it is well worth the viewer’s effort.

The Making of Dark Water – (15:51)

The strongest of the archival supplements is this “making of” featurette. It consists of behind the scenes production footage and forgoes the usual surface level interviews that usually accompanies such footage. The result is an objective glimpse behind the curtain that should please fans of the film and anyone interested in filmmaking in general.

Interview with Hitomi Kuroki – (08:00)

This archival interview with Hitomi Kuroki (who portrayed Yoshimi Matsubara) barely manages to go beyond the usual EPK commentary that one expects from such interviews but she does manage to divulge some interesting information here. In any case, it is nice to have the interview included on the disc.

Archival Interview with Asami Mizukawa – (04:39)

The most interesting aspect of this archival interview is Asami Mizukawa’s audition footage. The actual interview is somewhat standard EPK material but it is an interesting artifact nonetheless.

Archival Interview with Shikao Suga – (02:55)

Shikao Suga discusses the pop song he wrote for the film’s final credits. This is standard EPK material and is obviously geared towards promoting one’s interest in seeing the film. Interestingly, the song discussed here feels oddly out of place in the film. One is thankful that it is only featured in the end credits.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:13)

For the most part, this Japanese theatrical trailer isn’t much different than those made for most domestic horror films. Unfortunately, the inappropriate pop song (by Shikao Suga) featured in the opening moments of the trailer doesn’t establish the appropriate mood for what is about to follow. The rest of the trailer plays out as anyone might expect and showcases a few of the film’s creepy moments. Having said this, one cannot say that the result does the film justice. However, it is nice to have such marketing materials included.

Theatrical Teaser – (00:37)

The teaser trailer is a slight improvement over the previous trailer and features much of the same footage.

TV Spots – (00:50)

Some of these TV Spots also include Shikao Suga’s inappropriate pop song and suffer from its inclusion, but one cannot say that seeing these promos isn’t interesting.


Final Words:

Fans of J-Horror will no doubt wish to indulge in this terrific release of one of this subgenre’s seminal works. In many ways, the simple premise allows for a more consistent tone than Ringu enjoyed. It is certainly less convoluted than that earlier effort and the relative simplicity allows for a more consistent tone.

Review by: Devon Powell