|This is a review of the original Japanese version of Dark Water. For a review of the 2005 USA remake, click here.
Directed by Nakata Hideo, 2002, 102 mins, starring Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Asami Mizukawa, Fumiyo Kohinata, Mirei Oguchi, Shigemitsu Ogi, Yuu Tokui, and Isao Yatsu.
Dark Water (also known as Honogurai mizu no soko kara) is Nakata Hideo’s triumphant return with his latest astonishing work of art, back in tandem with many of the incredible ‘team’ that led to the success of the seminal Ringu: written by the genius Suzuki Kôji, who also wrote the Ringu series of novels, and scored beautifully by Kenji Kawai, who was also responsible for Ringu’s deliciously scary soundtrack.
Everything you’ve probably already heard about this film is true: yes, it is very close in look, mood and atmosphere to Ringu and also supposedly to Nakata's first entry into the horror genre, Joyuu-rei (aka Ghost Actress, aka Don’t Look Up) as well. Yes, clearly Nakata has found his own style as far as ghost films go (although his work is obviously not just limited to horror films – also see his thriller Chaos (aka Kaosu)). Indeed, the feel of the whole film is every bit as suspenseful, gripping, creepy, goosebumps-inducing and stomach-sinking as Ringu, if not more so. The taut lines of tension throughout the film will have you glued to the screen from the first to the last moment, hooked by the incredibly edgy ambience, and the soundtrack is a delight. And if you thought the famous ‘last scene’ of Ringu was awesomely chilling, there’s an equal delight near the end of Dark Water, and one which had every hair standing up on the back of your humble reviewer's neck…
All in all, if you loved Ringu’s black spirit and adored Kairo’s unbearable tension, you’ll go crazy for Dark Water. Gore fans will be disappointed, though, as there’s no bloodletting at all in this film; it’s a psychological horror of the greatest calibre, where even everyday objects such as a child’s bag, a water tank and even a bathtub can become the most evil and menacing objects of terror. Dark Water is, partly due to this, a rather non-visual film: the threatening meaning of a child’s little red bag, out of context, doesn’t carry across to screenshots. But that is part of the mystery and power of this movie: the safest, most ordinary of objects are imbued with inherent evil, and so it follows for the places where most people feel secure: their own bathroom, their own hall corridor, their child’s kindergarten. Under Nakata's skilful hand, all are transformed into locations scarier than your average fog-bound midnight cemetery.
Nakata’s film works so cleverly with this idea of no safety in the safest places and objects that everything seems dangerous. In combination with the terrible emotional story at the heart of the film, the feelings of dread, despair and sadness reach almost intolerable depths at times. Possibly more emotionally involving than Ringu but with the same blood-and-guts-free approach and artistic cinematography, full of tension and eerie, ominous scenes, IMHO it’s a better all-round work than Ringu. I hope sincerely that as many people get to see Dark Water as have Ringu. And with a Hollywood remake (hardly a surprise) in the works already, I guess many more people are going to hear about the incredible original ;-)
Dark Water is essentially a story about a young mother, Matsubara Yoshimi (played in a beautifully fragile and compelling way by Hitomi Kuroki), who is going through a very messy and emotionally damaging divorce from her manipulative and cruel husband Kunio Hamada (Fumiyo Kohinata), and fighting for permanent custody of their five-year old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno, the cutest kid on the planet!). Yoshimi is trying desperately to convince the legal committee in charge of her divorce that she is the best guardian of her daughter, since her father doesn’t even remember Ikuko’s birthday; but this is proving to be extremely fraught, in light of the fact that she once received therapy for work-related stress, and that she is currently jobless and homeless. Of course, her husband is trying to make it impossible for her, by attempting to prove that she is completely unfit to look after Ikuko.
So Yoshimi has to set out to prove that she can provide a good, solid, settled life for her daughter. After much searching, they find a cheap apartment to move into in a Tokyo suburb, in a pretty creepy and derelict old building. Despite the blandishments of the super-smarmy real-estate agent Ohta (Yuu Tokui) and the pathetic uselessness of the so-called "apartment manager", in reality a useless old fart of a janitor called Kamiya (Isao Yatsu), Yoshimi can see easily that the whole place is decrepit, falling to bits, and there’s an ominous damp stain on the bedroom ceiling. Most, if not all, of the other apartments are uninhabited, which adds to its eeriness. However, it’s very cheap, and extremely close to the kindergarten that Yoshimi attended when she was a little girl, and since they really can’t afford anything better, they decide to move in.
However, whilst surveying the apartment, Ikuko decides to explore a little on her own, and runs off to take a look at the roof. Yoshimi, understandably frightened, eventually finds her up there, perfectly safe, but carrying a rather strange little red child’s bag which is full of toys. Yoshimi takes the bag from Ikuko and throws it in the bin, thinking no more of it. And when they finally move into the apartment, she notices something strange and unsettling: the damp patch on the bedroom ceiling is spreading, getting bigger and uglier, and water is dripping through onto the floor. Of course, even though she reports it to the terminally useless Kamiya, he assures her that nothing’s going to be done about it.
In the meanwhile, she enrolls Ikuko at kindergarten, and finds herself a steady job proofreading at a small publishing house. But her new job means that sometimes she’s late in picking up Ikuko from the kindergarten, a fact not unnoticed by her husband, who uses this fact against her. And Ikuko herself seems to be acting oddly: talking to someone no-one else can see, wandering off and getting lost, and collapsing in her kindergarten class. And poor Yoshimi is getting increasingly unable to cope, severely stressed and spooked, not helped by the fact that the strange little red bag she keeps throwing away keeps on turning up in unexpected places, whenever anything goes wrong, putting a terrible strain on her to add to all her other woes, including her husband’s stepped-up efforts to break her will and steal Ikuko from her, even snooping around their apartment block for more evidence that his wife isn't looking after their daughter properly.
But when she finds Ikuko chattering away to an invisible friend called Mitsuko in their bathroom, she makes a connection between this and a missing poster she’s seen outside the kindergarten for a little girl called Kawai Mitsuko (Mirei Oguchi), who has been missing for 2 years and is feared abducted and murdered, who also attended Ikuko’s kindergarten, and she fears that this is also playing on her daughter’s mind. And when she begins seeing visions of a little girl dressed in yellow around the apartment building, and finds Ikuko upstairs in the empty apartment that once belonged to Mitsuko’s family, half-drowned and unconscious, the strain is simply too much for her: she breaks down in front of the legal committee. Nowhere is safe, not even her own home, but as she is advised by her kindly lawyer, Kishida (Shigemitsu Ogi), she dare not leave because the committee will see her as not providing a stable home life for Ikuko.
But what of the damp patch in the bedroom, and the foul water pouring out of the taps in the kitchen? Has Ikuko somehow awakened dark forces that would have been better left undisturbed? And will they be able to escape the curse surrounding their fragile lives?
Dark Water works on so many different levels of tension it sometimes almost feels awkward to watch, as if we’re intruding on someone’s personal torture. Hitomi Kuroki gives a wonderful, moving performance, playing Yoshimi as a woman simply unable to cope with the circumstances of her bleak life, trying her damnedest to do her best by her little girl, but beset by problems both human and supernatural on all sides. It’s an awesome portrait of unease and trauma, with some truly horrifying ‘jump-scenes’ which are guaranteed to leave you breathless and knock at least two weeks off your life. But is the real horror in the threatening actions of Mitsuko, or in the tough and ultimately doomed-looking situation of Yoshimi’s world?
Nakata Hideo understands and shows so vividly in this film that sometimes the horror of reality can easily surpass anything the demon world can throw at us. Once again, this remarkable director proves to us all why he is the (pretty much) undisputed champion of the New Wave of Japanese horror; along with others such as Takashi Miike and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, two more kings of the genre, these incredible filmmakers are totally reshaping the face of contemporary Asian film. Dark Water is an indispensable work of art for anyone who loves beautiful, intelligent, classy filmmaking in general, and not just for horror fans.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 10/10
Scary bits: 10/10
Ultra-scary bits: 2, but more than enough to make those with a nervous disposition cower under a cushion
Manifestations of Pure Evil: everywhere and everything
Cute Kids: 1
Evil Kids: 1
Dark Water: water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink
This film is currently under discussion here at the Snowblood Apple Forums. Discussion about the 2005 US remake can be found here.
(A huge Snowblood Apple thank you to Samaraslave for the indispensable and excellent help with the castlist of this film, without which much of this page would have been impossible to write!)
European Release News
Metro Tartan Distribution launched a promo campaign at the Edinburgh Festival in July 2002. They issued a promo yellow raincoat with the new English Dark Water logo, saying the movie will be opening (presumably in cinemas) in Spring 2003. We were lucky enough to get given one of these snazzy raincoats by Alex Apple's brother who worked at the festival. This is what it looks like:
and no, it's not for sale! Mandi likes wearing it round the shops and pretending she's Mitsuko (Alex Apple then runs away in terror...).
Dark Water Wallpaper
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2002
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Larry D Burns, 2003
Snowblood Apple Filmographies:
[Sadly, the fab official movie site http://www.honogurai.com/ seems to be offline, and who knows whether it'll ever be back again?]
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/darkwater.shtml - incisive review in the great, well-established quality Midnight Eye style by Nicholas Rucka
http://www.moviepie.com/filmfests/dark_water.htm - an intelligent and fun review by Linda
http://www.film.org.pl/prace/dark_water.html - review in Polish, with lots of super-sharp screenshots
http://www.lovehkfilm.com/panasia/dark_water.htm - we love LoveHKFilm
http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/sdj/sdj_dark_water.php - Sancho's Dark Water page, with lots of pics and a long discussion review by Kuro and Akatomy [French only]
http://www.twinkle.com.hk/intposter/asian_list.htm - if you're keen on getting your hands on a Dark Water movie poster, you can find it here (among a huge list of others!) - well worth a look!