Friday, 1 August 2008

The Sound Of Dread

This post is part of the Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blog-a-thon happening over at Michael Guillen's The Evening Class.

"With Kurosawa, his films seep into your consciousness and rattle around for days."

That quote from Joseph B.'s (itsamadmadblog2) earlier entry to the blog-a-thon, regarding the 2001 film "Pulse", just about sums up my feeling towards Kurosawa - especially his "horror" films. Joseph does a terrific job of describing why this is: it's the dread, the overwhelming dread that drips from these films. And one of the main tools he uses to accomplish this is the sound field.

Kurosawa knows that sound is an essential component to being frightened. Sometimes it's those things that go bump in the night that you just can't quite ever pinpoint. Or maybe it's a sudden loud crash that jump starts your heart. Kurosawa pairs his unforgettable images with eerie moans, almost inaudible low rumbling and, worst of all, occasionally no sound at all. It's a stylistic difference that seems to separate him and many of his fellow Japanese filmmakers from their Hollywood counterparts. Subtlety in the use of sound.

Here's three examples (of course, these are all much better viewed on good size TVs with proper sound, but I hope these videos give a sense of what I mean):


It's probably the most well-known scene from the film - some people call her the crab lady. Note how the sound field sets things up and then raises the creepy factor by a hundred. There's that ghostly "ooooo" that rises up as the light comes on and then it's replaced only by a background high pitched squeaking/screeching sound as we see the ghost. And then the sound drops out completely as it moves.


Again, it's the sudden drop of all the ambient sounds - in this case the clanging of dishes and chattering of the restaurant - as we get the first glimpse of the ghostly figure in red. That's followed by a barely noticeable low chant in the background (almost like a howling wind) that keeps you on the edge while the camera pans across the restaurant.


After the ghostly woman in red shows up via the mirror with a disturbingly piercing scream, she begins to move towards the cowering Koji Yakusho. The longer this shot goes on and the closer the woman in red comes to the camera, the harder it is to watch with no sound. There's a strong sense of anticipation created - when will the normalcy of the noise around us return?

It's as if the presence of all these ghosts simply sucks out all the sound around you. And that's creepy.


Maya said...

Great angle, Bob; I'll get your piece up onto the blogathon after breakfast.

Joseph B. said...

I almost posted the Youtube clip of the scene in Pulse, but I didn't wanna watch it again and give myself nightmares. Thanks, Bob!! Now I won't sleep tonight....

Nice post and dead-on about his use of sound.

Bob Turnbull said...

Much thanks Michael...Let's hope we manage to hit the same "Tokyo Sonata" screening at TIFF.

Back to full nights of sleep yet Joseph? B-)

cinebeats said...

Nice piece Bob and I totally agree with you about the way Kurosawa uses sound in his films!

A week or two ago I watched Bright Future back-to-back with Hiroshi Teshigahara's Pitfall and I was amazed at the similarities in the way the two directors use sound, images, etc. In retrospect I think Teshigahara's work was a HUGE influence on Kurosawa and for one reason or another I had just never noticed it before and I'm not sure many people have.

I hope you have a blast at TIFF and I look forward to reading you & Maya's posts about it!

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Kimberly,

Absolutely! Yes, good call on Teshigahara...Sound was one of the first things I picked up on when I saw "Pitfall" (I even wrote about it here - I write occasional reviews for my friend's Japanese movie site).

Can't wait for more Kurosawa...