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After Ringu and its sequel in the late 1990s, prolific J-horror
grandmaster Hideo Nakata returned to familiar ground in 2002 with this
intimate and very scary family drama/ghost story/murder mystery hybrid.
Like Ringu, it was remade (reasonably well) in Hollywood an
indication of the central story's universal appeal.
While awaiting custody proceedings over her daughter, Ikuko (Rio Kanno), Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) recalls being left at kindergarten while her own parents argued about who should pick her up. These memories inform the whole premise and tenor of the film: Yoshimi is terrified of losing her daughter. So she convinces the divorce panel that she is looking for work and a new home for her and Ikuko.
Mother and daughter move into a cheap, brutalist tenement. It's basic but serviceable. Yoshimi gets a job and soon the pair have achieved some kind of normality. But something's not quite right. There's a damp patch on the ceiling and it's gradually growing. And who is that strange little girl wearing the yellow mac? As Yoshimi seeks the truth all the while protecting her daughter and triggering her own deep-seated fears she will uncover the tragedy of a missing child that will haunt her on an existential level.
As with Ringu, Nakata shows his mastery of the slow horror form, and is in complete control. The frame is drained of bright colour and tinged with blue and grey, almost as if we're underwater. Forget about cheap jump shocks Nakata is all about presence, subtly introducing us to the layout of the apartment block before planting its corners with half-glimpsed human forms and shadows. Meanwhile, the subtle, eerily ambient score textures the images rather than crashing the cuts.
The two main performances are excellent, portraying an entirely believable bond between mother and daughter. Kuroki's performance may aggravate at first Yoshimi is all nodding subservience and hysterical nerves but gradually we empathise. As the clouds clear on the mystery of the girl in the raincoat, so they do too on Yoshimi's really quite rational fear of abandonment.
While you can see its influence on recent fare like The Babadook, which similarly focused as much on the mother-child dynamic as the scares, Dark Water also owes itself to films that came before. The image of the possibly supernatural, raincoated child, for example, clearly harks back to Don't Look Now; and we even get a final act shock that matches Nicolas Roeg's classic for sheer, lurching terror.
Dark Water is deep and foreboding; a bass thrum of a horror which keeps its creepy cards close to its chest. It is intricate and heartfelt and provides pictures that linger. It is also, crucially, an effective and moving love story about family bonds, which is key to grasping the real horror here: the horror of loss.
The experience of watching director Hideo Nakata's 2002 release "Dark
Water" was a bit of a dubious one upon my first viewing. That much I
must admit, especially as a fan of a number of his earlier films.
There's a definite air of familiarity for much of the film's runtime
that cannot be mistaken or outright dismissed. Familiarity that can
occasionally border on frustration in key moments. Why? Well, because
this most certainly is a film not unlike others that have come before.
Most notably of course being Nakata's own "Ringu" (aka "Ring"), the wonderful and trend-setting 1998 release that helped to usher in the rise of Asian horror as a worldwide phenomena. There's a bit of a feeling that with "Dark Water", Nakata was trying to capture that wonderful lightning-in-a-bottle twice after the earlier film's wild success all over the world. And I can't necessarily blame him... after all, "Ringu" is probably his best-known and most-appreciated work, and it's also just a darned-fine film to boot. And his earlier attempt to capitalize on its success through sequel "Ringu 2" was decidedly accomplished with mixed results. An interesting follow-up that faltered at times and never quite attained the acclaim of the beloved original.
The formula's all there with "Dark Water" and it's parallels to "Ringu." Both are based on popular novels by the wildly talented author Koji Suzuki. Both are centered on a working single- mom protagonist with a young child that is intertwined heavily in the story. Both make incredible and heavy use of water- based imagery. And both are centered upon a struggle against a seemingly malevolent spirit of a younger girl. (I believe the term for these types of spirits is "onryo", though I admit I am no expert in Japanese mythology.)
One could reasonably argue that "Dark Water" is little more than a pale imitation. An attempt to either cash-in on or try to reclaim the fame brought about by the earlier film. But I do think that would a disservice to the movie. While I do have a certain amount of frustration regarding the blatant parallels between the two films, I think that "Dark Water" does just enough different and has just enough going for it to not only stand on its own, but to also succeed as a fundamentally solid and often creepy little tale.
We follow Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki), a single-mom in the midst of a messy divorce as she tries to build a new life for herself and her young daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno), getting a new job and a new home in a large apartment complex. However, strange phenomena begin to plague the troubled mother... perpetual water leaks from the apartment above, glimpses of a mysterious young child roaming the hallways and her daughter's sudden illness. Soon, Yoshimi begins to piece together a dark and terrifying tale regarding what appears to be the spirit of a young child trapped somewhere in the building... a spirit that may threaten not only her life, but that of Ikuko as well.
The strength of the film really does come thanks to director Nakata's keen visual eye and ability to build a wonderful sense of atmospheric horror and for the performances of our lead characters, which ground the film with intimate and highly emotional stakes.
Nakata has a great sense of tone, atmosphere and composition. He's a master are slow-build and subtle horror, giving us a tale that very much evokes a good, old-fashioned sense of the creeps without falling back on cheap gimmicks and copious amounts of jump-scares as all too many films do. He also knows how to wonderfully build tension, and through vaguely metaphorical imagery, he creates an adequately chilling world in which the film is based. You'd never think water dripping through a ceiling could be so chilling (outside of the money you'll have to pay getting it fixed), but Nakata makes it work.
The acting is also top-notch and is a big part of the film's overall success. Hitomi Kuroki makes for a loving and instantly identifiable protagonist, and even if we haven't experienced life- shattering circumstances as she has, we still fully grasp her turmoil throughout. She's just a darned fine actress and gives the film an emotional edge that is invaluable and greatly appreciated. Supporting roles from Rio Kann, Mirei Oguchi and Shigemitsu Ogi are also very well cast and well-played and help increase the scope of the otherwise very claustrophobic film.
However, despite top-notch visual direction and world-class performances, I'd be lying if I said the film was without flaw. It can and does meander at times, while at others ratcheting up the pacing to near break-neck speed. It's inconsistent as a result, and that is a detracting factor. (The climax will sneak up on you from out of nowhere, and not in a good, startling way... more in a jarring "Whoa, that was way too fast" kinda way.) And those troubling parallels to Nakata's earlier "Ringu" are also where I gotta take off a couple points. It's asking a bit too much of us to not notice them, and it's occasionally frustrating as a result.
Still, "Dark Water" is a fun little diversion nonetheless. It may not be Hideo Nakata's best work, but it's another engaging thriller from this mastermind of horror, and I can forgive it's (rather large) faults thanks to his grand visuals and the likable actors.
I give it a solid 7 out of 10. Worth seeing at least once.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Directed by the acclaimed Hideo Nakata, this Japanese horror was part
of a number of films featuring ghostly black-haired children that
courted a wave of popularity (and American remakes) alongside The Ring,
the Eye and The Grudge.
Recently divorced Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) and her young daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno) move into a rundown apartment block where there is an alarming and growing patch of damp dripping from the ceiling. Ikuko attends the local school and adapts quickly, but sees ghostly images of a dark haired youngster. This little spirit is often accompanied by puddles of water that seem to be reaching out towards Ikuko, like fingers. Could this be the local child that has recently gone missing, leaving only her red school satchel behind a satchel that crops up in the most unlikely places?
SPOILER: it emerges that the missing Mitsuko Kawai (Mirei Oguchi) drowned in a large water tank on the apartments' roofing whilst trying to retrieve her satchel. Now a ghost, she now sees Yoshimi as a kind of mother figure, and haunts her and her daughter, leading Yoshimi to make the ultimate sacrifice and appears to travel over to the 'the other side' to appease the spirit and save her daughter. This scene is illustrated as Yoshimi elects to stay in the elevator frequented by Mitsuko's spirit. When at last the sliding doors open before her, a vast outpouring of water envelops Ikuko. Of her mother, there is no sign until ten years later when she revisits the apartments, dilapidated outside, but tidied and fresh inside. She sees her dead mother who assures her that as long as she is well, she is happy. Mitsuko is also there, but when Ikuko turns, she is gone.
This is a good, creepy film that also carries a real emotional sting. Although Mitsuko has a history of instability, there is little doubt that the watery hauntings are real, and these are achieved very convincingly none more so than when Mitsuko enters her flat once again after the damp patch on the roof has grown once more, to find filthy water pouring from the ceiling in every room. The effect is very much as if it is raining on the inside and is highly unsettling.
The melancholy of the lonely little girl, now without a mother, is also palpable but at least we get (and she gets) some assurance that Mitsuko will always be watching over her.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A truly memorable film, which succeeds not so much as a literal ghost
story as an aching depiction of struggle, heartache, loneliness and
In some respects, the film might come across as pretty formulaic stuff, with generally predictable scares, a sometimes dubious script, and generic horror-film score (although there are also effective uses of background silence). Having said this, though, I should also add that the climax in the lift is genuinely shocking and heartrending. But what matters even more than the supernatural thrills is the all-too human story of the characters, the bleak atmosphere created, and the haunting imagery. All these elements the film pulls off remarkably well.
The acting is pretty good. Admittedly, at first the mother appeared rather too high-strung to me, but that really is the kind of character she's meant to be. And the mother-child team is superb - there's real chemistry between the two.
Dark Water is a notable accomplishment. It does often look like a formulaic supernatural thriller yet it transcends tired old clichés and conventions to be so much more; it manages to be consummately chilling, desolate, and poignant, all at the same time. As a work of art, and in terms of provoking genuine emotion, it succeeds (at any rate I found myself crying openly at the end, and I can honestly say I don't usually cry at films).
Dark Water is arguably the best of the whole raft of Asian-horror films of the past two decades. At its core, it is a subtle, moving, and highly intelligent film, the like of which I've rarely seen, whether in the supernaturalist genre or out of it. A treat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As is so often the case with tag lines for movies, "the most shocking
film yet" is a misleading entry point into Dark Water. While it is
undeniably a horror, it's not the scream-a-minute shocker you might be
led to expect, but rather a sustained mood piece in the tradition of
classic horror like The Haunting. You can tell Nakata is a cineaste:
there are direct references here to The Haunting (the sudden, unnatural
bulging of the surface of the water tank) and The Shining (liquid
cascading through open lift doors), but the main thing he has
assimilated from both films is the brilliantly sinister evocation of
the supernatural; as a rarely glimpsed but ever-present menace.
Dark Water is almost literally saturated - outside, it's always raining; inside, the grey, dank, mournful interiors threaten to buckle under the weight of turbid water. There's a sense of creeping dread, building drip by drip to an inexorable cascade.
The story centres around Yoshimi Matsubara, at first as a small child waiting forlornly to be picked up from nursery, then as a young woman, sitting in a solicitors' waiting room, before being ushered in to discuss divorce proceedings. This is a nice cut sequence that lays the groundwork succinctly for the film's recurrent themes of neglect, fear of abandonment and loss. We learn Yoshimi now has a child of her own, Ikuko, whom she is fighting for custody of; together, Yoshimi and Ikuko move into an old apartment block and into the world of Mitsuko Kawai. Darkness, inevitably, follows.
Something that did strike me, as when reading The Amityville Horror was - why didn't they just leave? Sure, there are impediments - Yoshimi being embroiled in a custody battle and trying to hold down a day job, not wanting to unsettle Ikuko again - but there are more than enough warnings early on that this is not a good place to be. The question is facile though; obviously Yoshimi can't leave, a/ because it would ruin the film and b/ because she is subconsciously drawn to the apartment block - she needs to find some kind of resolution for the ghosts of her own past.
Yoshimi Matsubara (Kuroki) is a newly divorced mother that moves into
an old apartment with her six-year-old daughter Ikuko (Kanno) where
creepy things begin happening, which include a strange little girl and
a water leakage from the ceiling. Falls into many ghost story clichés,
but director Hideo Nakata executes the development and scares
wonderfully. The tension builds to a satisfying conclusion, but the
conclusion story-wise is a bit of a disappointment; specifically the
film's obvious theme of water that seems all unnecessary when the film
finally ends. Most people will see it for the scares, and they will be
*** (out of four)
As many will be aware, this particular style of Japanese horror cinema
became a phenomenon in the west, mostly as a result of the sheer
otherworldliness of it in comparison to the kind of horror films coming
out of Hollywood at that particular time. For many viewers - myself
included - the combination of slow-burning tension, understated
performances, emphasis on character and morality, and a more
old-fashioned approach to a lingering terror that stresses solitude and
eeriness over screaming and gore came as a real relief when looked at
within the context of violent, teen-based, self-aware horrors like the
Scream franchise (1997-2000), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
and The Faculty (1998). It's easy to scoff now, what with the
conventions and characteristics of Japanese, and indeed, Asian horror
cinema having been co-opted by the west - turning horror traditions
into clichés - but at the time, films like Ring (1998), Ju On: The
Curse (2000) and Ju On: The Grude (2003) brought horror back to the
very essentials; no more satire or irony to kill the mood, just a
slow-crawl of inexplicable supernatural horror tied to a fairly
pertinent comment on the nature of contemporary Japanese society that
elevated the horror, as opposed to detracting from it.
Dark Water (2002) was fairly hyped at the time as director Hideo Nakata follow up to the first two instalments of the Ring cycle and the underrated mystery-thriller Chaos (2000). It came at a time when Asian horror had properly emerged in the west, with the American remake of the Ring (2002) continuing the trend of Hollywood ripping off more interesting films from other countries, and turning the slightly silly term "J-horror" into something of a genre or a fad. I suppose this factor could explain some of the previously lukewarm reviews of the film in question; with some viewers hearing the buzz or the hype about how great these films are expecting something approaching the second coming. Obviously, Dark Water does work as a conventional horror film, but it takes some cooperation. Remember, we're viewing these films as a foreign audience. They weren't produced for us, or for our particular culture, and as a result they require a certain level of compromise in order to fully appreciate the experience. However, these films fit into a social context that may be lost on a western audience; with the sense of morality and the roots within traditional Japanese folklore really giving a tragic and entirely personal edge to the more recognisable elements of supernatural abstraction.
So, what impresses most with Dark Water is not simply the claustrophobia of its images or the constantly overwhelming feeling of loss and disconnection presented by the dreary production design and monotonous use of rain; but indeed, the central relationship between the mother and daughter that gives the film an edge of social commentary and places the emphasis on the characters throughout. It's grown up horror then; a film that suggests the true horror of a mother who can't quite comprehend the inexplicable threat facing her young child, and is forced to attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the actions leading up to these current events. Japanese horror often has this aspect of investigation, though with the resolution leaving much room for questions and interpretations from the audience themselves. It is fairly slow moving, and does require some level of patience; however, it is worth it for the continually oppressive atmosphere and gradual revelations of the script. Dark Water might not be on a par with the work of director Takashi Shimizu, the most interesting Japanese horror director currently at work; however it does have a great mood, some skillful set-pieces, intelligent characters and an enigmatic final that is open to interpretation.
Dark Water is another creepy Japanese horror movie from the man who
brought us the equally scary Ring. Yoshimi Matsubara is a young mother
going through a tough divorce, and moves into a run-down block of flats
that appears to be haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a
schoolgirl many years before....Director Hideo Nakata does not shower
the film with special effects and stomach-churning scenes, instead he
lets the viewer imagine the terror that is to come, along with
capturing the eerie and isolated atmosphere surrounding this run-down
Hitomi Kuroki portrays the paranoid and worried Yoshimi with wonderful agility, while Rio Kanno is equally remarkable as her cute five year old daughter. Dark Water equals Ring for its shocking and intriguing scenes, as we are taken on a frightening journey of discovery as to why and how this mysterious schoolgirl disappeared. It certainly raises some tough questions that are comfortably addressed come the end of the film....
Fans of Japanese horror films (and of course Ring) will not be disappointed with Dark Water. It's another winner from a now legendary director, which is sure to send shivers down the spine to those who have not witnessed this as of yet....Great!
Water, for once, is used as the symbolic catalyst of evil and death.
Blood is off the hook this time, and H2O serves as the metaphor for
danger reasonably well. It appears on ceilings, faucets turning
themselves on, puddles on the floor, overflowing bathtubs, frequent
rain, and a flooded unoccupied apartment room. Someone in authority is
forever trying to explain the weirder appearances, and in one case even
suggests (ready?) the kitchen faucet was left turned on 6 months ago,
and nobody turned it off! That silly line notwithstanding, much of this
movie is presented in a fairly eerie and effective manner.
I was very touched by the three central characters: the mother (Yoshimi) and daughter (Ikuku) are very real and human; their relationship touching and heartfelt, their danger and the terror they endure from the haunting is downright scary. An object as seemingly harmless as a child's backpack becomes a terrifying threat. The mysterious, enigmatic hooded character sauntering around in a raincoat is sufficiently sinister looking, yet a curiosity to learn more about. The tragic details of this entity are revealed to the audience only when the the characters learn them. Yoshimi, the central character (played by Hitomi Kuroki), is the right choice to build the suspense upon. Her battle with madness in the face of this crisis is well executed, and sets up the story's emotional conclusion logically.
The movie is creepy and eerie rather than terrifying, but relates a strange and tragic story effectively. The acting is above par, most notably by the children. The altruistic sacrifice that is made is heartbreaking. A well-told story.
I didn't find Dark Water as good as it was hyped up to be, yet it was good. The movie centers around a single mother and her daughter moving into a somewhat remote but "will do" kind of apartment. From there on things start happening and the girl starts seeing things. I didn't really get much of what was going on in the film, but it did interest me in a lot of ways. It definitely had some formulaic elements in it, but the story was so intriguing I didn't mind it that much. What really impressed me was the acting, especially from the daughter, who did a really good job. This being said, the movie isn't very scary, it has suspenseful scenes and a few frightening moments, but overall it felt like a psychological thriller/drama. I can definitely recommend this movie for anyone who is into psychological movies, as well as films that have well written scripts. My rate is 6/10 Rated PG-13- for terror and disturbing situations
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