Horror Across Cultures

Horror films between cultures often share key features and story-lines, but vastly differ in the craftsmanship of the film. This is most seen between Kairo and Pulse. Though the two films share the same story-line, the same exact scenes, same theme, and even the same name, they could not be any more different.

Camerawork is quite distinct between American and Japanese films. In Kairo, camerawork is much more reserved and utilizes slow panning that heightens suspense and extends time of scenes, providing a progressively growing atmospheric feeling of eeriness and psychological fear. Whereas Pulse utilizes a rapid paced style of camerawork, applying intense zoom-ins on characters expressions – cue the over exaggerated horrified face – and equally as fast jump cuts, a staple of American horror, in order to evoke fear from the imagery on screen, having a very direct method to scare viewers.

Speaking of imagery, Pulse places grotesque and graphic props and images on screen to further evoke a disgusted feel and fear from the audience. American imagery appears to be much more explicit and straightforward, from the intimidating images of the “ghosts” that appear suddenly in order to get some sheer terror from unsuspecting viewers. However, Kairo had a much more natural scene and imagery that derives fear from the slowly creeping cinematography.

Sound significantly differs between the two. Kairo had a much more atmospheric and strategic use of a low pitched sound and extra-diagetic music that sets the eerie tone and nature of the film. Pulse has a much more loud in your face music that explicitly cues in with the actions onscreen and wants to make the audience feel suspenseful and tense.

In general, Kairo delivers a lingering atmospheric feel that progresses alongside the story and evokes similar feelings to the audience; several times I found myself synchronizing my breathing to the breathing or beat of characters or sound onscreen. Pulse has a very direct style of fear from the pace of camerawork and extra-diagetic music in order to place those feelings of terror and suspense.

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2 thoughts on “Horror Across Cultures

  1. I like what you said about imagery and cinematography. In regards to Kairo, there are a few other techniques that add to this eeriness that you have described. First, in addition to the stagnant and otherwise slow-moving camera, its angles and framing are unique. As an audience, we are always kept at a distance. Unlike Pulse, there are very few close-ups, thus we feel detached from the character’s emotions. Consider the greenhouse scenes. Often times the camera is not even in the green house with the characters, but instead it is simply peering through the glass panels. Through this, there is a lingering uneasiness. The characters are so isolated that not even the audience obtains a complete and subjective view.
    Kurosawa also tends to play with depth of field. Whenever he does use tighter, medium shots in scenes where a character is alone and in danger, he employs a rather shallow depth of field. Through this, the viewer has a greater source of anxiety. A darkly lit room combined with a shallow DOF makes us anticipate the appearance of another ghost. Our mind may even play tricks on us as areas that are out of view of the character’s may seem like a figure is present. This is much more eerie than showing a clear CGI entity as in Pulse.

  2. Your post highlights the major differences between the American and Japanese versions of Pulse. The two movies have the same plot for the most part and the same central problem, but they go about different ways of sharing this information with the audience. The camera work that you commented on in Kurosawa’s version was most likely meant to give the audience the feeling that they are watching this story unfold from a distance. This is what made it suspenseful but not exactly scary. As for the American version, the camera work was up close to give a feel that the audience was experiencing this story along with the characters. This also sheds light on how in the Japanese version everything is shown and revealed to the audience as it is to the characters. In the American version, everything is spelled out after it has already been shown to clear up any confusion. This is why some say the Japanese version is more frightening because it leaves most of the unsaid elements up to the imagination.

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