Alternative title: Honogurai mizu no soko kara
Japanese director Hideo Nakata put himself on the map when his movie version of Koji Suzuki’s book, the Ring (which had previously been adapted into two TV shows) was released and became a cult horror hit. The movie spearheaded a renewed interest in Japanese horror movies which seemed fresh and exciting compared to the stale output of Hollywood. Here were movies aimed at adults, with complex, unsettling plots and were genuinely scary, a rarity that only smaller American productions, such as Blair Witch Project and Session 9 had managed.
The Ring (or Ringu, to give it back its Japanese name) dealt with the strange simultaneous deaths of a group of teenagers who had all watched a short, bizarre video tape they had found in a rented cottage. The video was linked to the murder, some years earlier, of a telepathically gifted adolescent called Sadako who was now reaping a kind of revenge from beyond the grave.
Nakata created a spooky movie, shot through with a rainy, dark atmosphere. Subsequently he also directed Ringu 2, bizarrely one of two Ringu sequels (the other being Rasen, directed by Iida Jouji), but sadly the result was a disappointing, disjointed movie which dispensed with Ringu’s chilling mystery. This may have been due in part to ignoring Koji Suzuki’s book series and writing the original story himself together with screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi.
Nakata made a few movies after Ringu 2, including the unusually structured Kaosu, a kidnapping movie where the scenes initially appear to be in a random order and a documentary on director Masaru Konuma, but Dark Water was his return to the horror genre. It also partnered him again with Koji Suzuki, who wrote the book on which the film is based.
The movie is set in the middle of a messy divorce as the highly strung Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) fights for custody of her five year old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno). Mother and daughter are forced to rent an apartment in a seemingly unoccupied block looked after by an aging, idle janitor.
Not long after moving in, a child’s red bag turns up and a leaking wet patch appears on the bedroom ceiling that seems to undulate and grow. The red bag keeps coming back no matter how often it’s thrown away and seems to be a portent of some kind of unimaginable horror entering into their lives.
Yoshimi learns that several years ago a child went missing from an apartment in the floor above them and there seems to be something supernatural at work, especially when a young girl in a yellow jacket starts to make appearances in the shadows.
Just like Ringu, the movie is full of dark clouds and rain, shocks and a slow creeping terror that grabs your heart with a gradually tightening grip. Unlike Ringu there is a subtext on the importance of the bond between mother and daughter and the true, unbalancing horrors that a custody battle can unleash.
Aside from the beautifully dingy cinematography, one of the real joys in this movie is Rio Kanno who plays the five year old Ikuko, who not only looks incredibly cute but who provides a realistically drawn and sympathetic performance.
Sadly, there are two things holding this movie back from being a masterpiece of suspenseful horror: the broad similarity to Ringu and the unnecessary coda at the end of the movie, which really adds nothing to the plot.
But Dark Water is still head and shoulders above most Western movies in terms of plot depth, atmosphere, acting and shockingly original scenes. Key moments will come back to haunt you for days afterwards, which has to be an improvement on the forgettable crap that often passes for horror.