Dark Water


Oct 31, 2010

The Plot: Yoshimi is a young woman dealing with a bitter divorce and trying to retain custody of her sweet young daughter Ikuko. Yoshimi’s husband is doing everything that he can to sabotage her custody however and is using her mental breakdown from years back against her. This mental fatigue came at a time when she was a proof-reader for a large publisher, but was forced to go through many disturbing and violent books. So many that her mind began to run away from her. Yoshimi is forced to find an apartment for her and Ikuko quickly, if she is to impress the board put in charge of her case. The only apartment that she can seemingly find is in this creepy building that suffers from a growing leak in the ceiling. As Yoshimi and Ikuko start to settle down in their new home, they begin to notice peculiar things going on. There is a red children’s bag that shows up which may very well have belonged to a young girl who went missing in this very same apartment building several years ago. Yoshimi returns the bag to the Lost & Found, but the bag soon comes back and Yoshimi fears that her ex-husband may very well be playing a game to try and force her to lose her mind. As Yoshimi balances her new job, these court proceedings and these mysterious circumstances that continue to pop up, she begins to look into the missing girl named Mitsuko who used to live in their building. Apparently the young girl was a product of divorce, like Ikuko, but when she went missing her father stayed and waited on her but she never came back. Will a similar fate fall upon Ikuko? Is Yoshimi simply going mad? You’ll have to tune in and watch in order to find out!

The Review
When Varied Celluloid was first conceived, back in 2002 and 2003, there were few names hotter than that of Hideo Nakata. As a viewer myself, I was there for his string of huge successes and I considered him one of the greatest voices to come out of Japan’s new wave of genre cinema. We fast forward eight years down the line and his name is almost obscure at this point. After directing the disappointing sequel to the American remake of The Ring, he has remained rather low key in his choice of projects. What few projects he has worked on, have received minimal praise (Kaidan) or zero distribution (Foreign Filmmakers’ Guide to Hollywood). I know that he as a filmmaker has tremendous talent and it pains me to see him being so unfairly forgotten. When I go back and revisit Ringu, Chaos (which I LOVE, but am in the minority) or Dark Water I am always reminded of what a talent this guy really is and then I think of The Ring 2 and am left woefully sad.

With Dark Water Nakata grabs you by the collar from the very start and points you in the exact direction that this movie is going. Early on he establishes this water motif that is going to encompass the entire film, by showing off this rainy weather that dominates the mood. Few filmmakers handle gloomy weather in the same way that Nakata does. He establishes mood very well with his rain-soaked backdrops and it is continual throughout much of his work. When his movies open up and you see the green foliage soaked with light misting rain, there is no mistaking his hand being involved. Rain can evoke so many different feelings, from being fresh and renewed to being stagnant and cold. Nakata seems to land somewhere in the middle, often delivering a unmistakable sadness in his work that seems pressured by his rainy backdrops and his use of somber music. Although this is just a light touch from his work, it is an important part of the atmosphere that Dark Water establishes early on.

From a technical standpoint, Nakata keeps his crew on their toes here. The filmmaker runs a triathlon in terms of techniques throughout the film. There are moments where the camera moves from a series of very steady tracking shots to a jumpy handheld camera, which gives the entire film a very different feeling. The film doesn’t over do it so the different ideas and textures sort of blend together and creates a steady visual flow. Nakata, showing his experimentation in the project, even plays with some early digital effects here that thankfully are used only sparingly. Going back to the purely visual appearance of the film, I love the look and atmosphere of this worn down apartment building that our two main leads find themselves living in. All turns within lead to areas that look identical, but the white walls with their smokey/dingy look evoke a sickly feeling that works very well in creating this sense of dread that is established throughout the picture.

Hideo Nakata’s work, even when the colors look rather drained out, usually looks pretty good. There’s no questioning that. It is the story and the way he tells it that makes Dark Water something more than a pretty looking J-Horror. From a dramatic standpoint, what Dark Water does that similar films from the time didn’t do is establishes a true bonding link between our main characters. This is helped by fantastic performances from both Hitomi Kuroki and the young Rio Kanno, who create these highly believable characters who we as the audience feel a connection with. There is a scene in the movie where daughter turns to mother and says “Mommy, I don’t need anyone but you” after a traumatic experience where Kuroki’s character was late in picking up her daughter yet again, and while watching you can’t help but melt in much the same way that Kuroki’s character does. Such a sweet and sentimental moment that comes off very sincere in the midst of this dark ghost story. There is a heart within Dark Water, and it keeps it afloat within the sea of films made with very similar content.

It is quite effective in its creepiness though, I must confess. Watching the film again for the first time in several years, I couldn’t help but feel genuinely freaked out during several scenes. I think my nerves were possibly more amp’ed up during this re-watch than on my initial viewing of the film. There is a sequence where Ikuko (Rio Kanno) and her mother Yoshimi (Kuroki) head to the roof and we see as Yoshimi catches a glance of some sort of apparition, through the crack of the door that leads to the roof. The ghost sort of hovers past the crack and we see very little, but it works so well due mainly to that mystique. While watching in the dark and alone, you can feel the lump in your throat grow as Yoshimi pushes her way through the door to get a better view of what just passed. As the two make it onto the rooftop you’re just hammered with this dread as they discover the little red bag has once again appeared despite being left in the Lost & Found section earlier. This is conventional stuff, without a doubt, but Nakata’s handling of the music and the buildup to the scene really gives the sequence tension. The movie itself probably doesn’t feature a LOT you haven’t seen elsewhere, but it is generally done to perfection here.

The Conclusion
Dark Water will hammer away at your nerves, as you hate seeing Yoshimi having to go through the Michigan J. Frog routine with an elusive ghost but at the same time you have to respect the film for having you so involved in its storytelling. Dark Water does have some issues within it. There are a few things here and there that I imagine could be trimmed down or even cut out to get it down to a slightly shorter run time which would help it in some areas, but I still highly recommend the film. It’s a definite four out of five picture and I hope those of you who may have missed Nakata’s heyday can go back and discover one of his best works. Check it out!

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