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Original Title:
Honogurai mizu no soko kara

Japan 2002

Horror, Drama

Hideo Nakata

Hitomi Kuroki
Rio Kanno
Mirei Oguchi
Fumiyo Kohinata
Yu Tokui
Isao Yatsu
Shigemitsu Ogi
Asami Mizukawa

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Dark Water

Story: Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is in the middle of a divorce. She struggles with her husband for retaining custody of her daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno), whereas he is trying everything in his power to discredit Yoshimi. For Yoshimi it's most important to keep her head, if she doesn't want to lose her child. Together with her daughter she moves into an apartment in a run-down building.
Yoshimi who is desperately trying to get a job, suddenly is plagued by strange visions. A certain bag that keeps popping up is almost driving her crazy, and moreover there is water dripping from the ceiling of her room. The whole building gives her a somewhat creepy feeling. Furthermore, her husband tries every little dirty trick to win the custody trial. He even talks about Yoshimi's previous mental problems, which resulted from her being neglected as a little child. Yoshimi is on the verge of a breakdown, as she couldn't bear it when her daughter would be taken from here.
Meanwhile, Ikuko frequently sees a girl in a yellow raincoat. Strange occurrences happen in the building, and after her contact with the mysterious girl Ikuko suddenly falls into a coma...

Review: Hideo Nakata without a doubt created a little masterpiece with his 1998 horror flick "Ring". "Dark Water" isn't another stroke of genius, yet proves once again that Nakata just has the right touch for a creepy atmosphere, so that one really may call him the master of J-Horror. Therefore, it's easy to forgive that he copies a lot from his previous work, concerning the horror motif. The girl with the long black hair is the dominant creepy factor again, even though thankfully there is a new element added, namely water, in order to keep things a bit more interesting. Fortunately, the movie also doesn't look as cheap as many other clones, that are still riding on the "Ring"-wave to get a piece of the cake.

What's distinguishing "Dark Water" from the rest of the genre additions is that there is a strong horror aspect to the film, of course, but every now and then the movie also drifts into the drama genre. That's really nice and also adds a new layer to the movie.
Yoshimi fights for her daughter and the side story revolving around the custody trial depicts the strong bond between her and Ikuko. Yoshimi herself was oftentimes neglected by her mother when being a child, which is shown in some well-inserted flashbacks. Thus, Yoshimi always wants to be there for her daughter and is willing to suffer in any way, as long as she can be at her side.
The excessive drama aspect, at least for a film that is actually labeled a horror flick, however, also slows down the pacing. Still, thanks to the great atmosphere this carries nearly no weight.
The story itself isn't that groundbreaking either, as it proves to be rather predictable, nonetheless there are enough nice twists to keep the viewer in line.

The strong unity between mother and daughter is also a great fundament to build some excellent creepy moments on, because the audience actually cares about the fate of the two protagonists. Besides the director also doesn't miss to scare us with some more direct schocking effects. Still, most of the time it's the incredibly tense and creepy atmosphere that manages to captivate the viewer and provides us with almost constant goosebumps.
The run-down building is the perfect place for a horror movie and Nakata knows how to capture the scenes the way that his audience always has a bad feeling in his stomach. The walls are dirty, water is dripping from the ceiling, there are only few residents in the old house, the building manager is a weird geezer and strange noises come from the flat above Yoshimi's.
The director shows that he just knows how the lighting is supposed to look like for a scene to work out, and he proves that he has a lot of experience in building up tension or in creating even more horror by using inventive camera shots. Kenji Kawai's soundtrack also makes sure that the viewer's blood runs cold. That there are several sudden bursts of sound, scaring you out of your seat goes without saying, of course.

Hitomi Kuroki gives a great performance as the mother, whose daughter means the world to her. She conveys the emotional moments quite convincingly as she does with her at times somewhat unstable mental condition.
Rio Kanno also delivers a good performance as little Ikuko, which is quite some effort for a child of her age, especially when it comes to the horror scenes.
As already mentioned, the film's pacing oftentimes drags a lot, as we get to see lots of Yoshimi's and Ikuko's everyday life. Yet this also leads us more into the depths of the film and helps to get absorbed by the eerie atmosphere. Nonetheless, the last 30 minutes the pacing picks up a bit and we also get a good portion of horror, supported by some very good shocking moments, that might tempt you to switch on the light in your room if you are watching the film alone. Water is an element that isn't really used in abundance to intensify the horror, but makes for a far more creepy experience, anyway.

Unfortunately, the ending leaves a little bit to be desired. Somehow Yoshimi's behavior suddenly doesn't coincide with what we've seen and heard of her before. Moreover, the epilogue during the last 10 minutes, which is brought to us as a forward leap in time, just seems out of place. It's as if the makers wanted to make sure, that the audience really grasped what was going on. Besides, the last part just feels too reconciliatory, even if it might be moving. A more distressing ending would have been more welcome and only could have added to the movie's quality.
Nonetheless, "Dark Water" is a well done horror flick, that can score with its great atmosphere, good shocking moments and a moving drama part. It's just that it doesn't come up with anything new.
Still, in the end this is a recommendable horror film!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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