Screen Reviews
Dark Water

Dark Water

directed by Hideo Nakata

starring Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Asami Mizukawa

Arrow Video

Japan has a long history of ghost and horror films, few of which found much audience or influence outside of Japan. In 2002, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring became a worldwide hit which sparked interest in its source material, Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata. More remakes of current Japanese horror films followed, but they brought with them US video releases of the Japanese originals. Horror fans in the west found a respite from the onslaught of torture porn that was dominating horror, and the world of horror would be forever changed by what film historian David Kalat coined “dead wet girls.” The films were basically modern retellings of ancient folklore about vengeful female spirits called onryō. Where traditional onryō sought vengeance against those who had wronged them, this new wave saw them angry at the world, eager to inflict pain on whoever entered their realm.

Hideko Nakata’s Dark Water (2002) was one of the films that got the remake treatment in the US, but also saw the original get a DVD release in the west, which made the Japanese original readily available to a non-Japanese audience. Soon J-Horror would become a part of the horror landscape, influencing filmmakers world wide. While not as iconic as Sadako, the girl in the well who inflicts her terrible vengeance via videotape in the Ringu films, Dark Water is a quiet, personal story that makes the skin crawl with an unease that lasts long after the film is over.

Dark Water, Arrow Video
courtesy of MVD Entertainment
Dark Water, Arrow Video

Yoshimi Matsubara, newly divorced and going through a bitter custody dispute, is attempting to start over with her six-year-old daughter Ikuko. She finds an affordable apartment in a neglected concrete building that is obviously a step down from the lifestyle she is accustomed to, but it is close to Ikuko’s new school, and she is determined to make it work. Single parenting proves to be difficult for Yoshimi, trying to juggle her daughter’s school schedule, custody proceedings, and job hunting cause her to start running late for Ikuko’s school pick up. Yoshimi is haunted by her own memories of being forgotten at school by her own mother. And then the water appears in the ceiling. Just a small patch of damp rust that grows in size until the leak is filling bowls in Yoshimi’s apartment. The water is coming from the unoccupied apartment above her where someone has turned on the kitchen tap, and the resulting flood is leaking into Yoshimi’s apartment. But it isn’t just water that is seeping into Yoshimi and Ikuko’s life. The apartment above them was home to Mitsuko Kawai, who disappeared two years earlier. Yoshimi discovers the truth that Mitsuko drowned in the building’s water tank, and her vengeful spirit is using water to attack Yoshimi and Ikuko.

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Dark Water, Arrow Video
courtesy of MVD Entertainment
Dark Water, Arrow Video

Dark Water is a curiously feminist film. Not just depicting the struggles and double standards faced by single mothers, but also showing how ultimately alone and disposable women and girls can be. It is also telling that all the men in Yoshimi and Ikuko’s life, in various capacities from lawyer and building manager to husband and father, utterly fail them. If any of the men in this film were competent, there would be no story. If the cistern cleaners had secured the hatch, Mitsuko would not have drowned, if the building manager had had the cistern cleaned, Mitsuko’s ghost may have been appeased, and if Yoshimi’s lawyer hadn’t convinced her to stay in the apartment, Yoshimi and Ikuko’s lives would have turned out quite differently.

Dark Water, Arrow Video
courtesy of MVD Entertainment
Dark Water, Arrow Video

Having owned previous versions of Dark Water on DVD and Blu-ray, Arrow Video’s new 4K UHD makes the other editions obsolete. The picture is striking and really brings out the grubby little details in the film without it ever looking too shiny, as is a risk with the higher definition formats. The disc features a number of interviews with the filmmakers, and this gorgeous release is a must for horror fans.

Dark Water


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