Dark Water (2002) Review

"Dark Water" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Dark Water" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Hideo Nakata
Writer: Koji Suzuki (novel)
Cast: Hitomi Kuroki, Mirei Oguchi, Rio Kanno, Shigemitsu Ogi, Fumiyo Kohinata, Yu Tokui, Isao Yatsu, Asami Mizukawa
Running Time: 102 min.

By Numskull

Director Hideo Nakata and novelist Koji Suzuki follow their success on Ring and Spiral with this collaboration about a mother and daughter living in an apartment building with a dark mystery, a leaky ceiling, a lazy janitor, and a very unresponsive elevator.

Just as Ring tried to make people afraid to use their VCRs, Dark Water attempts to make its viewers think twice about turning on their faucets. Does it succeed? Not quite, but it’s still a solid entry in the atmospheric horror genre that the Japanese film industry is building a strong reputation for. Cuts are few in number, and the music is sparse and unobtrusive. Take notes, alla you Hollywood types. (Actually, it looks like Gore Verbinski already did; his remake of Ring...eh, “borrows” a scene from this film in which someone receives a nasty surprise after thirstily guzzling a glass of water.)

As in Ring, we have a divorced couple with one child, living with the mother, whose name is Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki). This time, however, the red tape of the divorce is still in progress, and Yoshimi’s suspicions that her ex-husband is hatching twisted plots to gain custody of their daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno, definitely one of the better child performers that I’ve seen) adds to her already high stress level. She’s just moved in to a somewhat run-down apartment, she’s looking for a job, her brief stay in a mental institution years ago is coming back to haunt her, and Ikuko has developed an alarming tendency to wander off by herself. Oh, and there’s a bothersome leaky spot on the ceiling, but that’s the least of her worries…right?

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Yoshimi’s own parents were divorced, and that she has picked up their habit of being tardy when she goes to kindergarten to bring her daughter home. Another similarity with Ring: the protagonist is not the world’s most attentive mom, and the movie underlines the importance of not being a lousy parent.

And then there’s Mitsuko Kawai…who, without giving TOO much away, fills the “mystery girl” slot occupied by Sadako in Ring. It’s not hard to spot the creative duo’s (Nakata’s and Suzuki’s) formula. Fortunately, it’s a formula for success…with the notable exception of the lengthy epilogue which softens the horror factor of the preceding tale and puts more emphasis on the mother/daughter relationship. (I don’t consider the mention of the “lengthy epilogue” a spoiler because, like Ring, Dark Water climaxes a little too soon and in such a way that few would believe that the film is truly ready to conclude.)

I’m not switching to bottled water anytime soon (there’s shit in there just like in tap water; get a purifier instead), but I can instantly recall many of the film’s details; a good sign, and of even more importance than usual where the horror genre is concerned. I’d be happier without the slightly awkward ending, but I still give Dark Water a thumbs up.

Numskull’s Rating: 8/10

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