Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Japan. 118 mins

Kiyoushi Kurosawa's follow up to films like Cure and Charisma is his most commercial film and one that makes the current spate of teen-targeted shockers from Japan seem about as scary as the latest urban legend told around the school-lunch table. Watching Pulse is like taking a night-time plunge into the dark end of the collective unconscious and feeling you'll never come up for air. Prospects for the cult and art-house markets are bright, but the mall multiplex audience will be a tougher sell: Kurosawa is still closer in spirit to David Cronenberg than Wes Craven.

Kurosawa occasionally fumbles in the gloom before arriving at his narrative points, but he also gets lots of frightening mileage from minimal materials (including red duct tape), while creating an utterly bizarre world with a compelling dream logic. The story may be a steal from George Romero's The Night Of The Living Dead, but Kurosawa takes it further - much further. As someone once said, to make a good horror film it helps to be a bit of a sadist. And, in this case, have horrible nightmares too.

A young man named Taguchi working for a small greenhouse disappears for a week with a floppy disc containing an important customer list. When a colleague, Michi (Kumiko Aso), visits his apartment to retrieve the floppy, she finds him sitting alone in the dark. To her relief, Taguchi seems sane enough, if oddly wraithlike, but when she turns her back, he kills himself.

The scene shifts to the room of Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato), a college student who hates computers, but has decided, out of boredom, to log onto the Internet. The first site that appears on his screen, however, it fills with shadowy images of rooms much like his own and shadowy figures moving about in them. Then a message appears: "Would you like to meet ghosts'" He pulls the plug in horror. What in the name of Bill Gates is going on here'

What is going on, it seems, is the spread of an unholy virus, one that has no rational explanation, at least one that Michi and Kawashima can discover. He tries to get help from Harue (Oyuki - no last name), a college computer whiz with fashion model looks, but she has no answers either. Meanwhile, another of Michi's colleagues, Yabe, hears Taguchi calling for help on his cell phone and goes to the dead man's apartment to investigate. There he finds, to his everlasting regret, that the ghosts are no longer in the machine. Enough to say that the escalation continues, and that Michi and Kawashima meet, as we always knew they would.

Suffice also to say that the first scene of the film, with Michi standing at the rail of a ship in the middle of the ocean, telling her story to the gruff long-haired captain (Koji Yakusho), ties in with the last, but in a way that must be seen to be believed (or simply must be seen).

It also helps that Haruhiko Kato and Kumiko Aso play his two leads: Aso won several awards as the earthy young whore in Shohei Imamura's 1998 Dr. Akagi, while Kato, a TV talent with a scattering of film credits, could be any second flame-haired kid in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district. They give the film a grounding in everyday reality, bringing it, if not quite down to earth, then at least closer to home. To enjoy the film, though, it helps to be a bit of a technophobe, who still believes, even after thousands of hours online, that monsters lurk out there in the digital deep. And they do, don't they'

Prod cos Daiei, NTV, Hakuhodo, Imagica.

Japanese dist Toho

Int'l sales Daiei

Prods Shun Shimizu, Shinji Okuda, Ken Ueno, Yoshiyuki Shimoda

Scr Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Cinematography Ryoichiro Hayashi

Prod des Kazuyuki Maruo

Mus Takeshi Hageta

Ed Junichi Kikuike

Main cast Haruhiko Kato, Kumiko Aso, Oyuki, Shinji Takeda.