August 05, 2009

DARK WATER (2002) - more ghosts from Hideo Nakata

(2002, Japan, Honogurai mizu no soko kara)

From the director of Ring, from the writer of Ring...

I recently read Koji Suzuki's Birthday, which I didn't know was a collection of short stories. I then read his Dark Water, which turned out to be the same. This helps explain why the Japanese movie Dark Water feels a little insubstantial. It's not based on a novel, but a rather brief tale. That's not to say that it's not good, but it's rather simple.

Yoshimi is going through a difficult divorce and is forced to find somewhere new to live. She's also trying to retain custody of her little girl, Ikuko. She finds an inexpensive but slightly run-down apartment to rent. But no sooner does she move in and start to look around for work, the history of the building starts to invade her life. On top of everything else, she's rather highly-strung. Nervous of noise, people and even rain... which seems to be dogging her life. Water, water, everywhere...

As the two of them settle into their new home, dripping water coming from the ceiling is the least of their problems. It sounds like there's a little girl running around in the apartment above. The estate agent hasn't told them everything about the recent history of the building - they're finding out the hard way. Why does she keep seeing a distant shadow of a little girl in a raincoat...

While the mystery of the haunting is easy to figure out, it's interesting to see how it develops. I even thought that the scares started too early on. The first time Yoshimi looks round the apartment, a ghost follows her up in the lift - before she's even moved in! Considering how sleight the story is, padded out by the divorce case, I was surprised that the supernatural didn't appear more gradually.

Director Hideo Nakata had tried to stay away from horror and ghosts, fearing that he would get typecast after his huge hit with Ring (1998). He was lured back to make the sequel Ring 2, but also made Chaos and Sleeping Bride. With Dark Water, he shows that Ring was no fluke, and easily conjures up scares with a minimum of effort. What initially disappointed me was that the climax was not only predictable, but fell far short of the shocks of Ring. In fact, the eventual climax felt weak - just the opposite of what I expected. I certainly liked Dark Water far more on a second viewing. Just forget the hype on the DVD cover and don't expect another Ring.

The producers were obviously trying to monopolise on the link with Ring, even using actors from the Ring universe. The nervy Yoshimi is played by Hitomi Kuroki who also starred in the first Ring TV series. She's in the current 20th Century Boys trilogy and Hideo Nakata's recent Kaidan.

The distinctive-looking Isao Yatsu, as the ancient building superintendent, had been in Ring 2 and later appeared in Takashi Shimizu's Grudge movies. A great face for haunting horrors.

Once again, Nakata gains an excellent, natural performance from the young actress playing six-year old Ikuko. More recently, little Rio Kanno was in another horror, Noroi The Curse.

Dark Water is available in the UK and US on DVD, but it's easily confused with the 2005 American remake of the same title. The English translation of the book is available in hardback and paperback.

I'm curious, but I haven't made a priority of seeing the remake, even though I like Jennifer Connelly. Anyone out there seen it and thought it was worth a look?


  1. I have watched both this, and the remake. It had been about a year in between the two films, but Dark Water isn't that easy a film to forget. I like the original film better, but I did feel the remake was worth a watch at least. Let us know if you give it a watch as well!

  2. On your recommendation, I feel I have to! Be good to see Jen in a horror film again.

  3. The original is the best but I thought the remake was pretty well done. I think the remake can be best described as being somehow more gentle than the original. Maybe because it sacrifices scares for characterization.

    All my opinion of course.

  4. I really can't recommend the US remake. Jennifer Connelly's character spent most of the film demonstrating her appalling child-care skills. I kept wondering when child services would turn up and do something about it! I only made it to the end out of sheer stubbornness, not because I enjoyed the film. And even then, it took two attempts!

    The original, however, is exceptionally good, and well worth watching. The slow pace did not detract from the experience - The creepy atmosphere was allowed the time to build.