Pulse 1 (Kairo) , Pulse 2

Since as part of my teaching, I am always listening for signs of the direction of the consumer society, my ears perked up when I heard mention of the exportation of anti-depressants to Japan. According to this speaker, the sale of anti-depressants in Japan is a billion dollar industry.

This was not the case even ten years ago.

The Japanese knew of something called depression.

The nation [Japan] did have a clinical diagnosis of depression – utsubyo – but it was nothing like the US version: it described an illness as devastating and as stigmatizing as schizophrenia. Worse, at least for the sales prospects of antidepressants in Japan, it was rare.

So they had depression ten years ago, but it was devastating. Further the attitude of the Japanese people towards melancholy states differed from ours:

Most other states of melancholy were not considered illnesses in Japan. Indeed, the experience of prolonged, deep sadness was often considered to be a jibyo, a personal hardship that builds character.

What a novel idea: a personal hardship building character, sadness–not as something to run away from–but something that, if endured, might make one stronger.

Clearly, not an American idea….not anymore anyway.

Which is why the Japanese version of the movie, Pulse (the original version), is better than the American version. Both are about how technology is taking over our lives; things come out of our TV sets and over our phones and drain us of our life force. Slowly people start disappearing or killing themselves for no apparent reason. That’s mostly what was going on in the American film: technophobia. It had a lot of cool special effects; people turning into piles of dust and so forth.

And while technophobia plays a part in the Japanese film, something else was going on, something in a way more horrifying than anything a special effect could convey. The characters actually talked about “death,” what it was, what it meant for human existence, and but most importantly death becomes the ultimate symbol of the isolation or aloneness of the individual. That’s ultimately what the Japanese film was about and stated directly by the characters at different points: We are each of us alone. There is no way we can communicate with each, no way we can know or really understand each other.

The Japanese film was depressing. Yes, the heroine escapes on a ship headed to nowhere. But in the final scene, she says she has found peace sitting with her best friend, who, having been stricken by the ghosts, is now no more than a shadow on the wall. She is staring at emptiness. The American version just doesn’t have that edge. Both hero and heroine escape and are heading to one those places where there is no cell phone reception.

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