Often referred to as one of the scariest films ever made, PULSE tells the story of a group of young friends rocked by the sudden suicide of one of their own, and his subsequent, ghostly reappearance in grainy computer and video images. Is their friend trying to contact them from beyond the grave, or is there something much more sinister afoot? The mysterious floppy disk they find in the dead man's apartment may provide a clue, but instead launches a program that seems to present odd, ethereal transmissions of people engaged in solitary activities in their apartments. But there is something not quite right in the appearance and behavior of these lonely souls. Soon, there are more strange deaths and disappearances within the group, terrifying rooms sealed in red tape, and the appearance of more ghosts as the city of Tokyo—and the world—is slowly drained of life.
Predating many of the Japanese horror (J-horror) films that have been re-made for American audiences (including The Grudge, Dark Water), PULSEwas originally purchased by Miramax in 2001 to make way for a re-make. Eschewing gore and easy shocks for a harrowing tone unique to his cinema, writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made a dense and complex film whose metaphysical and psychological resonance will last long after the chills have subsided.
DIRECTOR STATEMENT I wanted to make a movie about ghosts. And yet, what exactly are ghosts? Are ghosts humans who once were alive? Or are they merely the embodiment of death? And how would such ghosts choose to interact with humans living in the real world? Surrendering to my imagination, I managed to create a film. Therefore, I suspect that much of this film is based on my personal delusions about death.
In my delusion, I began to wonder what the closest feeling to experiencing death would be as a still living human. I couldn’t help concluding that it would be like enduring eternity utterly alone. From there, the theme of loneliness emerged organically. Although it was not my original intention, this process gradually led me to incorporate the rampant loneliness of contemporary Japanese society as an integral element of the film.
DIRECTOR PROFILE Born in 1955, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a graduate of the sociology department of Rikkyo University. He began filmmaking in college with an 8mm camera, and won a prize at the 1980 Pia Film Festival. After working as an assistant director, Kurosawa made his debut as a commercial film director in 1983 with Kandagawa Warriors. His popularity increased with such films as The Excitement of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa Girl and The Guardian from Underground.
In 1992, Kurosawa was awarded the Sundance Institute Scholarship for his original film script Charisma and traveled to the United States for study in filmmaking. In 1997, he wrote and directed Cure which received international acclaim, appeared at the Cannes, Venice and Berlin film festivals, and was released in the United States by Cowboy Pictures in 2001 in conjunction with a touring retrospective of his works. Bright Future, his second film to be released in the U.S.,came courtesy of Palm Pictures in 2004.
Haruhiko Kato was born in 1975, in Aichi. He debuted in a TV drama series “Ari yo, saraba (Farewell, Ari)”in 1994. Since then, he has appeared in numerous commercials, TV dramas and variety shows. His amiable charm has won him popularity among wide audiences. Kato has appeared on numerous TV shows, as well as the popular radio show, “All Night Nippon.” His first film was Midori (1996), and he later extended his versatility with 2000’s Another Heaven and Moon (Tsuki). Kato has received the Japanese Movie Producer Association Erandoru New Actor Award, and he is regarded as one of Japan’s best young actors.
Kumiko Aso – Michi Kudo Kumiko Aso was born in 1978, in Chiba. She debuted in Bad Guy Beach (1995) and later appeared in Seventh of July, Sunny Day (1996) and Neko no Musuko (Son of a Cat,1997). In 1998, Aso starred in Shohei Imamura’s Dr. Akagi, which received acclaim from industry and audience members alike, reinforcing her reputation as a cinema actress. Her numerous awards for the film included the 23rd Hochi Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress and the 22nd Japan Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as New Actor. Her recent works have included License to Live (1999), RingØ: Birthday, Sunflower, Kazabana (all in 2000) and Stereo Future, Luxurious Bone and Last Chance (2001). Prized for her excellent performances, she is one of the most sought after actresses working in current film world of Japan.
Koyuki – Harue Karasawa
Koyuki was born in 1976, in Kanagawa. Starting out as a reader’s model for the magazine non-no, she soon expanded her modeling career and later became an actress. Since 1998, she has performed in numerous commercials and TV dramas. Her cool beauty and solid performances have consistently expanded her repertoire. Her powerful presence in the popular TV dramas, “Beautiful Life” and “Ikebukuro Westgate Park” (both in 2000) remains fresh in the memory of many fans. Her difficult and complicated roles attest to her tremendous talent. Koyuki gained her first exposure to western audiences in 2003, playing opposite Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.
Kurume Arisaka – Junko Sasano Kurume Arisaka was born in 1979, in Fukuoka. She was discovered in 1997, making her debut the same year. Appearing in numerous publications as a teen idol, she later extended her performances to commercials, variety shows and TV. Her vivacious personality granted her instant success. In 1998 she was selected for the TV drama “Stupid Teacher,” which received recognition among critics. The series was adapted to film, and released in the Fall of 2000. Her energy and sociable character hint at her further success as an actress.
Masatoshi Matsuo – Toshio Yabe Masatoshi Matsuo was born in 1978, in Fukuoka. Matsuo was the winner of the Super Boys Contest hosted by Junon magazine, and has been an actor ever since. In 1998, he became known for his performance in Give It All, playing the role of a good-hearted young man, who accompanies the heroine played by Reina Tanaka. He has worked mainly in films, where his credits include Enbalming (1999) and Tomie: Replay (2000), but he also appears in TV dramas. His more recent works include: Kinpatsu no Sougen, Sweet Sweet Ghost (2000).
Shinji Takeda – Yoshizaki
Shinji Takeda was born in 1972, in Hokkaido. He debuted in 1994 with Shichi-nin no Oaku: Cult Seven. His popularity rose in the same year with his performance as a sensitive man who possesses ESP in the TV drama “Night Head.”Since then, he has been active in various areas, including TV dramas, theatre and music. He released saxophone recording and has since performed live on many occasions. His performance in 1999’s Taboo won the Japanese Academy’s Supporting Actor award and Blue Ribbon’s Supporting Actor award. Other appearances include Tokyo Eyes (1998) and Tales of the Unusual (2000). He appeared in Kurosawa’a Barren Illusions (1999), so PULSE marks their second film together.
Koji Yakusho – Ship Captain Koji Yakusho was born in 1956, in Nagasaki. Beginning with his starring role in Another Way: D-Kikan Joho (1988), his performances have been highly acclaimed. He won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Main Actor in Ourora no Shita de(Underneath Aurora) (1990) and Mainichi Movie Concour’s Best Actors award for Kamikaze Taxi (1995). In 1996, he starred in such films as Shall We Dance?,Sleeping Man and Shabu Gokudo. Starring in various sensational features such as Lost Paradise, Cure, Jubaku: Spellbound, Charisma, Alley Cat (Dora-heita), and The Eel,(which won the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival), Yakusho established himself as Japan’s representative actor. PULSE represents Yakusho’s fourth time working with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, revealing a perfectly matched sensibility between actor and filmmaker. He also appeared in Aoyama Shinji’s Eureka, which won two notable awards at the Cannes International Film Festival.
Translation by Aika Nakashima.
A WORD WITH THE CAST
“If the viewers can feel secure by seeing a normal individual in the film…”
Haruhiko Kato has been honing his skills as an actor since his appearance in the 1994 TV drama “Ari yo Saraba.” In 2000, he appeared in both Another Heaven and Tsuki (Moon). Despite his deepening involvement with cinema, his comments on PULSE remain straightforward: “I received the deal, and read the script, but I didn’t understand anything at first. But for me, not understanding is a good thing, because the irregular imagination of the story and the excitement of how it will turn out on screen pushed my curiosity. Normally, when you watch trailers of movies or TV dramas, weirdly enough, an instant is enough to explain the basic story. But that will not be the case with this one. That’s the magic of PULSE. When people watch something for the second time, the story becomes predictable. But PULSE betrays even that assumption. The condition of the viewer affects the way it is seen. You don’t find a film with such a fifty-fifty relationship between the viewers and the makers. This film is seen in various ways, reflecting the diversity of people and emotions, providing no answers. Also, there is no obvious climax. Yet you cannot miss a single scene, because the film is constructed in such a way that every scene is intricately connected.”
How did you approach a film so difficult to understand? “When you receive a script, you read it once, five times, ten times and twenty times, right? But I still didn’t get it. Then, I began to think this must be how Kurosawa’s world operates. The script will unfold itself during the shooting. That thought made me excited about shooting.” When asked how many times he’s read the script: “At least a hundred times,” he responds. “Actually, that’s a joke, but when I first started acting, the director of my office seriously told me to read the script 100 times. Of course, I didn’t think reading was all that it takes, he laughs. But I spelled the kanji “right” on my hand, and read it as many times as I could. Of course, just reading the script isn’t a solution or anything, but you can discover something new even on your 99th reading. At the end of the day, what matters most is to do your best at the final shot. The final result is everything.”
How was the shooting, then? “I must say I was able to act in the most comfortable environment. I cannot act when I am told what to do in advance. In that way, (director) Kurosawa lets you act however you want. So, I ad-libbed tons in ways like muttering and nodding. It’s a natural part of conversation, after all. Of course, you cannot do it too much. But I figured that if you ad-lib a certain amount in the beginning, the director will take the parts he wants to use. So, I purposely altered things, like my muttering, for second takes. I tried to be honest to my mood and the atmosphere.”
Apparently, there were no special demands or directions from the director, both before and during the shooting. Neither was there a point where Kato succumbed to asking for directions. “Why need answers? Kawashima is simply living naturally in that condition, and he doesn’t know what is going on. If you know the answers, or ask the director, it would have ruined the story,” Kato says. “With everyone else going insane, Kawashima is the only one who is rather normal. I wanted the viewers to feel secure and at ease by having a character like Kawashima in the film,” he explains.
Regarding the existence of ghosts, he says, “I’ve never seen them but I do believe in them.” Comically, his childhood impression of ghosts was formed by [the popular cartoon show] “Oba Q.” Yet his attitude towards PULSE is dead serious. It is a story of a “death access” suddenly appearing on the monitor, erasing humans one by one. “If a person who saw this film is using the internet at night, and thinks, ‘Wait a minute. Is this…?’, then it was a success.”
Interviewed and written by Yuko Watabe.
“This film is a story about the fear of solitude.”
- Kumiko Aso PULSE is Kumiko Aso’s second film with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, following 1999’s License to Live. Aso plays Michi Kudo, the lone heroine who strives for life when everyone close to her disappears from the world of the living. Aso was initially dissatisfied with the script, which to her left an impression of incompleteness: “It’s ok to have a scary narrative, but I couldn’t agree with this one,
because I felt that it ended without resolving anything.” Aso found a narrative without a clear resolution to be despairing. Despite her initial impression, you see a refreshing expression on the face of Michi during the last scene. The expression is not that of a character portrayed by an actress who interpreted the story as an unresolved tragedy. “You’re right. After discussing it with director Kurosawa, I understood that this was something close to a happy ending. According to him, the clementine that I take out in the guest room of the ship embodies something human.”
Clementine equals human. It took a while for Aso to really understand this. “When I first heard this, I was startled. But as I listened to Kurosawa’s words more carefully, it seemed that those who disappeared and became shades changed in physical form only. Nothing else has changed. Basically, it’s all the same with the Clementine.” That is why Michi stays with Ryosuke Kawashima, played by Haruhiko Kato. As he becomes a stain, she says, “I am with my last friend right now.”
“No matter his shape, his basic existence remains unchanged. Nobody has really disappeared. Michi is the only one who is led to this realization. I believe that’s how it is,” says Aso, explaining her character’s refreshing demeanor at the film’s final moment. In Michi, Aso found a strength and sturdiness. She says, “Michi is the type of a girl who immediately accepts and adapts to given conditions, while attempting to step forward.” Aso found a similar level of strength within herself, but “not as tough as her,” she laughingly recalls. Michi’s courage increases as the story progresses. Aso could not stop putting herself in Michi’s position and envisioning her own reaction. “I don’t know if I would have been as self-possessed as her, were that to happen to me…”
The character development of Michi over time was one of Kurosawa’s priorities: “He gave me a point to point explanation of the changes in Michi’s emotions.” Aso understood Kurosawa’s vision and ran with it. Even her hair styles and outfits transformed into something more and more active, a reaction against Kawashima, played by Haruhiko. “‘Don’t lose against him!’ the director kept saying!” she laughingly recounts. As Aso observed Michi’s changes, she understood that her character wanted to save at least one person in human form. Michi’s ability to do this was related to her resisting seduction by the mystery which claimed everyone else as ghosts. “Even Michi’s friend, Junko, has this thing where you have the desire to see something scary. She loses against the seduction of seeing something you don’t want to see, but want to see. But Michi isn’t fooled by that from the start.”
In the film, another character, Koyuki’s Harue Karasawa, chooses to join everyone else in shadow rather than experience her real life in unbearable isolation. What does Aso make of this concept of solitude?
“I know it’s hard. I don’t like it.” There are times when people prefer to be alone, but that may not be absolute solitude. “Even if you are by yourself, you always have someone who needs you. As long as you don’t forget that you have family and friends, it should be fine.” Yet, we forget what is important. That’s when the fear of loneliness takes over.
“If my friends and family found themselves in this situation, desiring to die like Harue, choosing existence as a shadow, I would do the same as Michi. I would definitely help them.” she asserts. Lastly, a message for the viewers? “This film has a lot of depth, and it is frightening on a psychological level. Instead of watching this alone, watch it with a group of people. Be touched by the depth of the story, and speak with each other when it’s done.
Interviewed and written by Chizuru Yoshino.
“I don’t think that a person who can rely on others is necessarily weak.”
–Koyuki In 2000 Japanese audiences witnessed Koyuki’s ascendance as an actress with her appearance in both TV dramas (“Beautiful Life,” “Ikebukuro Westgate Park,” “Love Complex”) and film (Keizoku /The Movie). Kurosawa’s offer to work on PULSE came as she was looking for more work in films. “Actually, I’m a fan of Kurosawa’s movies, and I was hoping to take part in this production, so I was very happy with the offer.” Though she doesn’t seem like a Kurosawa fan she had seen all of his films, except for Charisma. “I feel that his films compel the viewer to just watch the characters as they exist. Rather than sending an explicit message, [the films allow the viewer] their own unique interpretations. There are certain ways I want to be interpreted, but his films don’t limit the interpretations. That’s closer to real life experiences, and I feel a tremendous sense of reality from it.”
However, this approach led to long and confusing days during shooting. “In prior roles, I was told ‘this person’s life is like this, and has this kind of personality’ at the pre-shooting meetings. But with Kurosawa, all he says at initial meetings and costume fittings is ‘just act as you feel.’ Nobody’s ever directed me that way.” At the same time, this has allowed her to be face-to-face with Harue in the script. “Once the shooting began, I felt that it was an opportunity to present my understanding of my character, Harue, so it was easy. I just gave it a shot every time, and if Harue was different from what the director had envisioned, then we would be able to discuss and ask questions such as ‘shouldn’t she be feeling differently there?’ But actually, he didn’t correct much at all. I believe the way we both interpreted Harue Karasawa’s character, her change of emotions, the way she interacts with others, and the points at which she makes an utterance, were very similar.
“Harue is probably an active, bright girl in school. She knows a lot about computers, perhaps she’s even good with her studies. She takes leadership roles in after school clubrooms, and everybody relies on her. But when she’s at home by herself, she can be depressed. At the core, she feels that she isn’t connected to her friends. That’s precisely why she acts in such a way that hides her true feelings,” Koyuki explains. Indeed, the film actually reveals very little of the character’s specific background. “Every human has multiple faces, the outside face to communicate with others, and a lonely one behind. Harue is a type that is high-spirited on the outside. She’s the type that never wants to reveal her anxiety or fear. In a way, there are many people like that out there.”
The character who manages to enter Harue’s heart is Ryosuke. As Koyuki recalls, Kurosawa explained to her that “this is a film involving adolecsent drama.” There is no doubt that Ryosuke is attracted to Harue, but what does Harue think of Ryosuke? “There are points at which Harue depends on Ryosuke as she loses herself, but I don’t know if it is comparable to anything like romance or love. Harue gives the impression that out of pride, she lived her life without depending on others. But I think it is natural for humans to cling to others in extreme conditions. People who cannot trust anyone, or have nobody to rely on, are actually weaker, because they have given in to their own sense of loneliness. So, the people who look strong can actually be much more fragile.”
Back to PULSE. In this film, long takes with minimal cuts are prevalent. This style allows the charisma of each actor to assert itself naturally, in a space taken over by silence and breath. In fact, there are moments where one can see sides of Koyuki previously unexposed, such as the scene in Ryosuke’s room. “This was the first time I’d done long takes like these. Before the shooting, I’d heard that we would have many long takes, and I was nervous about it. But once it started, surprisingly, I found that they suited me well. It’s natural for humans to have these pauses, just as we sit here and talk now. We express with our entire bodies without realizing it. When all of this is combined, we get a sense of realism. It made it easy for me, because these elements became reflected in the film. I wasn’t too pressured about having to perform everything accurately from the start, for fear of making a mistake. Instead, I enjoyed the shooting, which allowed me to love films even more since.”
Koyuki says that shooting at the creepier locations, such as the old factories and switchyards at night, remains particularly vivid in her recollections. Koyuki is someone we’d love to see more of on the big screen.
Interviewed and written by Jun Sasaki. All translations by Aika Nakashima. INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR KIYOSHI KUROSAWA
by Jim O’Rourke
In the early ’90s, I had been too busy obsessing over classic Japanese films by Masamura, Oshima, Wakamatsu, Suzuki and others to pay attention to what was happening in Japanese cinema at the moment. But when Takeshi Kitano moved from his popular role as half of a stand-up comedy team known as “The Two Beats” (he still acts under the moniker Beat Takeshi), to that of film director with Violent Cop (1989), Boiling Point (1990) and Sonatine (1993), I was enthralled. I asked my good friend Atsushi Sasaki, a great Japanese film and music critic, “Who else is doing good work now?” He mentioned his old college roommate Shinji Aoyama, and then, with eyes wide, “Kiyoshi Kurosawa.”
At first Kurosawa’s films were hard for me to find. Pre-1997, most of them had not been translated, but that year I had a revelation when I saw his films Serpent’s Path and Cure. It was as if Kurosawa knew exactly what kind of film I wanted to see—he used free flowing combinations of time scales and shifting registers; for lack of a better phrase, they were existentialist tone poems in the guise of entertainment. 1998’s Eyes of the Spider cemented it for me: Kurosawa was my favorite filmmaker alive. Since then his worldwide stature has grown exponentially, moving out from V-Cinema (direct to video) and film festival screenings to the international commercial film circuit. Last year brought Bright Future (Palm Pictures). His newest film, Loft, premiered in January at the Rotterdam Film Festival.
Jim O’Rourke: For the first half or so of your career, you worked firmly within the Japanese studio system. Now that you are making your own films, do you still find the idea of genre very useful. How do you deal with the structure and language of genre, and do those challenges lead to a greater understanding of why a certain genre communicates in the way that it does?
Kiyoshi Kurosawa: For me, the biggest thing that genre defines is that movies have been historically determined to be between a hundred and a hundred and twenty minutes in length. Of course you’re free to make them longer, but in fact I think that’s a length that has been determined by history. So I have to figure out a way to tell what I want to tell within that time frame, and that’s not my strength, so I rely on the power of film as such. And an even more fundamental reason that I operate within genres is that I’ve seen many, many wonderful movies that I consider to be masterpieces that are clearly bound by a certain kind of genre, or they’re old studio-system pictures. And if I watch these masterpieces, hobbled as they are by the lack of freedom that genre is defined by, I realize that still it’s possible to make a masterpiece under those conditions today.
JO’R: Do you use the rules as a challenge to learn about the internal operations of a genre and why its language is what it is, as another way to express your ideas?
KK: Certainly, that is always a challenge that I enjoy, and even when I’m not conscious of genre, what I’m realizing is that the generic influences if you will, just naturally flow from me as a
storyteller, and I’m sure that’s true in music, too—that we end up telling the stories based on certain rules. Well, in fact, I wouldn’t say that I always obey the rules of the genre, but I think ironically what I find most compelling is that no matter how accurately I try to follow the rules of the genre, even if I try to stay a hundred percent faithful to it, simply by the accident of the time that I live in or my individual personality there are always shifts and transformations. So no matter how faithful I try to be, my discovery is that it’s impossible.
JO’R: Right. I really like how you incorporate a sense of non-linear time into your films. Eyes of the Spider in particular has an incredible power, in part due to its radical structure. The simultaneity of the story’s progression and the non-linear cause and effect open all sorts of new possibilities to reveal the motivations and psychic consequences of the protagonist’s act of revenge. I was wondering what initially inspired you to use non-linear time? Was it other films? Or was it through different mediums?
KK: Actually, no one’s ever pointed that out to me before. It’s a very interesting insight, because I’m not actually conscious of defining a non-linear time structure in the abstract before I make a film. However, I think there is something that is organic to film and unique to it as an art form, which is the nature of time and how to portray it in film. And I am interested in that question of, what is time in film? So I would say I’ve grown more interested in that question over time. It’s something I contemplate each time I make a film, but I’m hardly an original thinker in terms of this. Take the very famous example of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, where three different approaches to a similar reality are explored.
My understanding of filmic time is that it’s always moving forward in one clear, linear fashion, and at the end of two hours you come to the end. It’s only in parts of the story that you may periodically dip into the past. I think that if you approach telling a story the way Rashomon does, what you do is dissolve any factual basis for determining what is true and what is not true. By having all three versions of events moving forward simultaneously, you dissolve the underlying concept of a single truth that’s presumed to be there. And I think that this is probably something very difficult to achieve in any other art form.
But at its essence, film is a collection of chopped-up time. I mean, I guess once in a while you have something that’s actual contiguous time that’s shot almost like a documentary recording of real time, but in general filming occurs over a longer time period: you shoot scenes over different days and then you edit that. Of course, the audience in theory experiences it as a linear story, but for those of us who are creating it, it’s a complete non-linear mishmash of time from the very beginning, and we’ll do brazen things like take a close-up from a scene that didn’t belong in the scene at all and pop it in the editing.
JO’R: Still, I think very few feature filmmakers have dealt with time in the way you have. There are precedents, of course, but narrative film generally seems to be considered a representational art form. There’s a non-representational way you examine and reveal the motivations of the
characters in your films, though, when time and its juxtapositions lead into an understanding of
what cannot be shown. One shot can completely change the context of everything you’ve seen previously, but it isn’t like a trick or a parlor game; it creates a resonance that is unmistakable.
KK: I’m delighted that you’re such a conscientious viewer of my films. The truth is that most of that sort of thing is not something that I planned while filming. Or I wasn’t planning on that being the last cut, but in the editing room I’ll go, Oh my gosh, maybe this is the last scene after all. And then I can plop it in there and that’s really why I love to make films. But, and maybe partly because the nature of narrative can be very musical, maybe in music you can also have this kind of playing back and forth with time and freely ad-libbing, but actually underlying it all is a forward, linear trajectory.
JO’R: That’s sort of what I was getting at earlier. These larger structures seem to come out of working through the material and letting the material have a say in what’s done with it. I wonder if you sometimes feel like you are collaborating with the material.
KK: Yes, I would have to say that that is really the fundamental basis of my filmmaking. Whether my material is human beings or landscape or cityscape, each time it winds up either gently undermining the rules of the genre or oddly enough, in unexpected ways making them work.
JO’R: When Bright Future was released in the States, there seemed to be a lot of talk about the last shot, in which an aimless gang of teenage boys who have befriended the film’s protagonist walk boldly down a busy street all wearing a uniform of Che Guevara t-shirts. Politics haven’t seemed to be a programmatic concern in your films, but I am wondering if you feel there’s been a shift in the kind of engagement that Japanese youth have with local and global political situations.
KK: I’m not interested in the power struggles of politicians, and I wouldn’t say that Japanese youth are either, although I would say that that in itself is dangerous, because it leaves many of us open to manipulation by those very same politicians that we’re not interested in. But that is not all that politics is, and I think that any time people from divergent cultures or societies encounter each other, there’s always a “political” situation at work. It’s this politics of interpersonal relations I’m more interested in incorporating into my films.
JO’R: What that scene got me thinking about was whether that group of teens might be part of the first, or maybe the second generation to be almost totally disconnected from an awareness of political protests in the recent past, like the Zengakuren or the AMPO Treaty, and how these spilled over into the arts. I wonder if to them this history is a completely abstract commodity, because there may no longer be any physical connection to it.
KK: Yes, but I would actually say it’s my generation that was the first to choose not to be involved. The generation directly older than me was very actively involved and was invested in believing in Che Guevara as an activist symbol. In watching them, I always felt that I needed to keep a certain distance from their profound engagement in political movements. The thing about
young people today, though, is that they’re not completely cut off, because in fact they are genuinely drawn to the Che Guevara symbol. They don’t really know what it means, but I think some part of them instinctively understands that it’s a symbol of some kind of revolt and somehow vaguely expresses the dissatisfaction that they have with society. Now, obviously, some people make money off that, but I would say that even though they’re not politically conscious as a group, they’re not entirely unconscious, either. But given that it’s been a generation since young people were involved in political struggles, I do wonder what adult society has been doing these last 20 years.
JO’R: Many of your films start after what would generally be a film’s climax, and the characters are trying to reestablish some connection to an ambiguous sense of being or belonging, even if that means having to trash whatever they understand communication to be, or reaching beyond what we understand to be “real.” This idea is fore-grounded in the film PULSE where internet culture becomes an accelerated medium for alienation and even the apocalypse, but there are also some connections between some of your films, between Seance and Cure, for instance, that I’m really interested in. In Seance there are direct references to electro-voice phenomena and Thomas Edison’s psycho-phone, and in Cure to Mesmer. Do you have a special interest in these types of devices, or does your interest lie in the lengths people will go to in order to connect with others?
KK: It’s not that I’m specifically interested in the occult, but I think inevitably the fundamental question that we wind up being obsessed with throughout our lives is what happens to us when we die. It’s something we’re constantly grappling with subconsciously, but in our daily lives, certainly living in the relatively peaceful cities we do, we’re quite removed from death. Obviously that’s not the case on a battlefield. But once you start to make a story, and very often in films, you have death; the death of a main character or a side character. The truth is, I’m no clearer about what death is than I was as a child. So the childlike questions remain: What happens when you die? Is it all over? Is it just nothing? Is there some way to communicate with those who have died? And I think my use of ghosts or communication with the other world is part of my obsession with those same questions.
JO’R: Your films always make me investigate these things as well. I mean, I didn’t know about Edison’s psycho-phone until I heard it mentioned in Seance, and it compelled me to spend three days investigating it. Each new viewing rewards the work put into it.
KK: I guess that’s why filmmaking is so compelling. I made something in Japan, and here people in America are entranced by it. Of course, I’m not making films alone. Fundamentally it’s a collective enterprise where I have my crew and my actors, and then you have the landscape. Each scene, each film really, is a one-time combination that’s being recorded and expressed, and of course in that sense, we have no idea how it will be responded to abroad. That’s part of what keeps it so interesting.
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