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Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara)

Director – Hideo Nakata – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 101m

*****

Currently available to view on Amazon Prime, BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) and Shudder.

Review originally published in Funimation UK to coincide with the UK Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD release date 14/10/2016.

Jeremy Clarke on Hideo Nakata’s urban ghost story.

At the centre of Hideo Nakata’s film Dark Water (2002) is the powerful bond that exists between a mother and her child. Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is in the middle of divorce proceedings and while all the financial arrangements have been agreed, the question of who gets custody of the couple’s daughter has yet to be settled. Yoshimi is assured that in cases where the child is less than six years old, the mother tends to get custody. However, her former husband is attempting to discredit her to prevent this happening.

This is all very stressful to Yoshimi. For the time being however she and her almost six year old daughter Iku (Rio Kanno) need to find a place to live. So Yoshimi views an apartment in a run-down block of flats and mother and daughter move in. That’s when their troubles really start. The ensuing narrative is essentially a haunted house story but with the twist that instead of the traditional standalone house, this story takes place in and around a single apartment inside a block of flats.

In the early part of the film it is often raining and water seeps into the block of flats in places you wouldn’t expect it to. Puddles are visible in certain corridors and sometimes even in the lift where water drips from its ceiling access panel. The bedroom ceiling in Yoshimi and Iku’s flat also displays an ominous damp patch. This is first visible when the estate agent Ohta (Yu Tokui) initially shows the pair round and swiftly diverts Yoshimi’s attention from bedroom to kitchen so she won’t spot it.

Once they’ve moved in however she’s soon using a bucket to catch the drips beneath. As the damp patch increases in size, the exhausted Yoshimi falls asleep on the floor resting her head on the bed and wakes to find much of the mattress’ area soaked through from the leak above. The image of her sleeping head lying on the mattress as water drips onto the side of her face is a potent one.

Fairly soon after moving in, Iku is playing on the building’s roof when she finds a child’s red shoulder bag and wants to keep it, but Yoshimi forbids this as it must belong to someone else. The bag disappears after a brief spell in the front desk’s lost property tray and keeps turning up throughout the narrative. At one point it appears inside Iku’s own bag but Iku denies putting it there when Yoshimi questions her.

Then there are glimpses of a mysterious girl about Iku’s age who wears a yellow plastic raincoat and carries the red shoulder bag. To any viewer familiar with either horror movies or British cinema, this figure recalls similar glimpses of a mysterious girl of about that age who wears a red plastic raincoat in Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973). Water likewise pervades Don’t Look Now which is mostly set in Venice, a city built on water. Also, Nakata’s filmography prior to Ring includes 1996’s similarly titled Don’t Look Up.

Finally, two old ladies play a pivotal role in Don’t Look Now while a brief scene in Dark Water hasYoshimi ask two old ladies in the lobby if they’ve seen her daughter. It’s hard to see why the two old ladies would be there at all in Dark Water unless they were an homage to Don’t Look Now as they only appear in the one scene. Don’t Look Now isn’t mentioned in any of the extras on this disc which include specially recorded in-depth interviews with writer Suzuki, director Nakata and cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi so all this may be coincidental.

On the wall at Iku’s kindergarten, Yoshimi sees a child’s drawing of a yellow raincoat/red bag girl and learns that this girl vanished one day without trace. It turns out that the girl and her father lived in the flat directly above the one now occupied by Yoshimi and Iku. Cue scenes looking inside that flat to find taps running at full blast and serious flooding. Further scenes on the rooftop involve an ancient, dripping water tank, an episode in Yoshimi and Iku’s flat has the bath taps come on full blast so that they can’t be turned off and an emotionally charged finale in the lift involves Yoshimi, the yellow raincoat girl and an awful lot of dripping water.

Dark Water was made on the back of the phenomenally successful Ring films spawned by the bestselling book franchise by author Kôji Suzuki who says on this disc’s Family Terrors featurette that he planned to write a logical story which only turned into horror when he introduced an occult element. Having seen Don’t Look Up (aka Ghost Actress) Suzuki thought Nakata the perfect fit for the material. As a result, Nakata directed the first Japanese film called simply Ring (1998) and its sequel Ring 2 (1999).

While looking at other Suzuki material for future projects he came upon the story Floating Water in Suzuki’s collection of seven stories entitled Dark Water. Floating Water provided the inspiration for the film Dark Water. Nakata went on to direct the second film in Hollywood’s version of the franchise The Ring 2 (2005) which showed him just as adept working with a larger budget and state of the art special effects as with a smaller scale Japanese production.

Just as Suzuki never planned to write a horror novel, so Nakata doesn’t consider himself a director of horror films only. In the disc’s featurette Ghosts, Rings And Water he notes that he’s worked in other genres too. A quick look through his filmography reveals romantic dramas, comedy dramas and documentaries as well. However if you’re new to Nakata’s films, Dark Water is a good place to start and the wealth of extra material on Arrow’s new release makes it all the more worthwhile.

Dark Water is out now from Arrow Films on Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD.

Trailer here:

Review originally published in Funimation UK to coincide with the UK Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD release date 14/10/2016.

Dark Water is currently available to view on Amazon Prime, BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) and Shudder.

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