Same story. Same plot. Same general concepts, characters, entities, dystopian futures, societal themes/fears, and color schemes. Yet, two incredibly different films. Both Kairo and Pulse showcase some defining factors of each nation’s genre. While watching these two films, I kept asking myself, “What defines horror?” And, “What are the possible approaches?” Horror is an appeal to the viewer’s emotion. It works to invoke something in us. With Pulse, and any other standard American horror, that emotion is fright. This film works to catch us off guard and scare us. For Kurosawa, the emotion is more of a mood. An aura so eerie, we feel helpless. It is an impending doom lingering that refuses to relinquish itself.
The opening scenes of both films immediately establish this concept. Note how in the American version, there is a fast paced, quickly edited action sequence. A man is being tormented by a ghost, which we actually see right off the bat. In Kairo, Kurosawa cares less about forcefully grabbing our attention, than he does setting a more serious mood. A still shot of a computer room intrigues us, while subtly creeping us out. He definitely does not let us see the ghost, as Pulse does. That would ruin this mood.
Another unique effect is Kurosawa’s camerawork. He lingers on his subjects, makes slow pans, and draws out scenes. This adds to the psychology of feeling isolated and helpless. The victims are under a microscope in the same way they are being watched on computer screens. Quick cuts and more camera angles offer no escape to its characters, which Pulse implores instead. This film is faced-paced and always cutting providing one scare after the next, which also attributes to its shorter runtime. (Kairo is not afraid to draw things out and depict utter despair over 2 hours, which is quite long for a horror film.)
Lastly, I am guessing the outcomes of both films are quite different (even though we have not finished Pulse). Kairo demands a more somber conclusion. As he said in his interview, ghosts in Japanese horror are perhaps, less violent, yet unstoppable. The film revolves around how helpless the characters are and how they find ways to cope with the entities, through the very end. Pulse calls for more of a climatic ending. Whether the film stays true to the original or not, we are assured that there is a way to combat the creatures. This violence and physical conflict removes the psychological aspect of Kairo to make room for more of its scares.