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Dark Water
  |     Sanjuro's review    |     Magicvoice's review    |     awards     |     availability     |   

Oooh...creepy. An unnerving image from Dark Water.
Year: 2002  
Director: Hideo Nakata  
  Producer: Taka Ichise  
  Cast: Hitomi Kiroki Mirei Oguchi, Rio Kanno, Asami Mizukawa
  The Skinny: From Ring director Hideo Nakata comes this creepy thriller guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. It also happens to contain the spookiest "Have You Seen This Child?" poster known to man.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      The classic "woman-trapped-in-a-haunted house" plotline gets a fresh update in Hideo Nakata's stellar Dark Water, a great example of the new wave of Japanese horror that followed in the wake of Nakata's previous Ring films. Adapted from a story by Ring author Koji Suzuki, the film focuses on the plight of Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), a recent divorcée locked in a nasty custody battle with her ex-husband over their precocious young daughter, Ikuko (Rio Kanno). To prove she can create a stable home environment for her daughter, Yoshimi finds a job and moves into a new apartment with Ikuko in tow. Aside from the building's lifeless, creepy atmosphere, the only problem with the place seems to be the persistent leak coming from the ceiling. But then things get weirder when a mysterious red bag starts showing up everywhere. And if that weren't strange enough, there seems to be a a mysterious child in a raincoat lurking around every corner. Just what is going on? Is Yoshimi's ex-husband playing tricks on her or is the problem a supernatural one? As Yoshimi and Ikuko soon learn, their new home holds some dark secrets of its own.
     One of the more interesting aspects of Dark Water is that it gives its main character a reason for putting herself in harm's way. Although any sensible person would simply move out of the apartment, Dark Water addresses that issue by placing Yoshimi in a situation which would make such a sensible decision impossible for her. As the audience soon discovers, Yoshimi had personal problems in her past that forced her to seek psychological counseling. Although the problem wasn't quite as severe as it sounds, her ex-husband twists these and other facts to paint Yoshimi as a hysteric incapable of raising Ikuko. Thus, Yoshimi is warned by a kindly attorney that if she suddenly changes homes and pulls Ikuko out of school or starts complaining about ghosts, she will immediately look like an unfit mother and lose Ikuko to her ex-husband. Thus, poor Yoshimi is trapped in a no-win situation. Not only does this fact give a valid reason for the plot to occur, but it creates a sense of hopelessness and desperation that only intensifies the horror elements of the movie.
     And unlike predictable horror dreck turned out by Hollywood every so often, Dark Water succeeds in creating a palpable sense of dread that infuses the entire picture. Whereas the typical American horror film tends to use formulaic plotlines and clichéd scare tactics to frighten its viewers, Nakata's chiller feels fresh as it consistently draws the audience in closer, making us actually care about the protagonists, hoping they'll survive as we're all pulled into the dark, dank abyss together.
     To its credit, Dark Water subverts a lot of conventional Western wisdom when it comes to horror films. Anyone who's seen enough scary movies knows that some ghosts are just lost souls who need to be told to "go towards the light" or are perhaps in dire need of a proper burial to put their spirit at ease. Simply put, if you satisfy the ghost's needs, then everything will be a-okay. You do a good deed, and problem solved, right? Wrong. That is definitely NOT the case in Dark Water, and the decision made in the climax may leave a few viewers puzzled. Some may find the closing dénouement a little hokey, but it goes a long way in explaining (though not exactly spelling out) why things unfolded the way they did.
     Though often cited as a stellar example of Japanese horror, Dark Water's lack of a "franchise" has kept it somewhat under the radar over the years, especially when one considers the plethora of Ring and Ju-On sequels, remakes, and knock-offs that have dominated cineplexes around the world. Strangely, it may take the American remake starring Jennifer Connelly to get viewers to appreciate this quiet, unassuming, but spooky-as-hell horror film from director Hideo Nakata. (Calvin McMillin, 2002)
Alternate Review
     Yoshimi Matsubara (soap opera star Hitomi Kuroki) is involved in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband over their six year-old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno). While a decision is being made on the matter, Yoshimi and Ikuko move into a run-down apartment building and attempt to build a new life. At first, things seem fine save for the annoying leaky ceiling in the bedroom, but as time passes, the leak gets worse and Ikuko starts talking to an imaginary friend named Mitsuko. It is soon revealed that Mitsuko (Mirei Oguchi) is a missing child who used to live in the apartment upstairs, and she has apparently returned to take Ikuko away from Yoshimi.
     Mother Yoshimi has some childhood abandonment issues of her own stemming from her own parents' split. Consequently, she wants nothing more than to be a good mother to Ikuko, and to keep them together. When the story of Mitsuko's own maternal abandonment comes to light, Yoshimi realizes to her horror that it's not Ikuko's company which Mitsuko desires but her own. Ikuko is simply in the way. Now she must choose between being mother to either Ikuko or Mitsuko. Surprisingly, her decision fulfills the needs of both children.
      Dark Water shares many characteristics of Hideo Nakata's other hit film Ring, but Dark Water has a better screenplay. Mitsuko is given plenty of backstory to flesh her out; she is a tragic and potentially dangerous spirit who serves as a metaphor for Yoshimi's own inner child. It took Nakata two films to accomplish the same kind of depth with Ring's Sadako. Also, where Ring ended on an anticlimactic note with the curse continuing, Dark Water has a more satisfying albeit melancholy conclusion. We are able to visit Ikuko ten years after the events and receive familial closure through her eyes. Dark Water is a very cathartic film and will probably have more of an emotional impact on viewers who come from divorced families themselves.
     Technically, nobody knows how to build quiet tension the way Hideo Nakata does. Through his skill as a director and the convincing performance of lead Hitomi Kuroki, something as innocuous as a child's book bag becomes ominous and terrifying. We are never allowed to see Mitsuko's face but instead are allowed only glimpses and quick shots. Sound effects and music play a big part in the chilling mood of the film; one scene where Mitsuko pounds on the inside of a water tank is as effective a use of sound and music as anything ever seen.
     Unfortunately, as with Ring, the rights to Dark Water have been purchased and will be produced as a remake in America. It is almost certain that most of the film's subtleties will be lost in translation. No doubt it will become something more akin to Aliens where the story becomes more about the lioness protecting her cub than the psychology of the haunting. Do yourself a favor and see the Region 3 DVD instead. Dark Water is an engaging and emotional thriller with a low body count and high intellect. (Magicvoice 2002)

2002 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film
Silver Raven Award (Hideo Nakata)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES 6.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
  DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Japanese Subtitles
Region 1 NTSC
A.D. Vision
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and English Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Original Japanese Trailer

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen