回路 KAIRO (2001)
"A strange website claims to offer visitors the chance to connect with the dead." - Shudder
The first film I chose was Kurosawa Kiyoshi's 2001 film Kairo (Pulse), as I am a huge fan of the j-horror genre. I had originally planned to start with Miike Takashi's Audition, but Shudder no longer had it available, and Kairo had been on my watchlist for quite some time now, so I figured "why not?"
Kairo follows two storylines - flower shop friends and co-workers Kudo Michi, Sasano Junko, Toshio Yabe, and Taguchi - and students Ryosuke and Harue Karasawa as both groups deal with the "invasion" of ghosts into the human world via the Internet. As the Internet was still a relatively new technology at the time (as evidenced by one of the characters' lack of basic computer knowledge), the film is a sort of social commentary on the dangers of becoming too hooked and isolating oneself from the real world.
I love Japanese horror films because of their ability to get under your skin without the overuse of blood, gore, special effects, or jump scares. These films rely more on mood, setting, and the power of suggestion, and Kairo is no exception. The film is dark, cheap, and grainy at times; the effects are a little choppy, but they work really well for this film because of how sparingly they are used; again, most of the thrills are done so via the power of suggestion. Nothing jumps out at you, so to speak, but if you don't pay close attention, you'll miss some crucial spine-tingling moments.
What really got under my skin, however, was the soundtrack. There's no set-up music indicating something is going to happen, no sudden cessation to keep you on the edge of your seat. The music comes and goes at weird, almost chaotic, intervals, and it's like an eerie lamentation throughout the film that meshes so well with the theme of death and eternal loneliness. At times you'll feel creeped out; others, a tinge of hopelessness.
It's not the scariest film I've ever seen, but there's something about it that makes it one of the more unforgettable ones. (Plus there's a sweet cameo appearance by my favorite Japanese actor, Yakusho Kōji!)