Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenplay: Ken’ichi Suzuki, Yoshihiro Nakamura
Based on the short story “Floating Water” by: Kôji Suzuki
Starring: Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi, Asami Mizukawa, Fumiyo Kohinata
Country: Japan
Running Time: 101 minutes
Year: 2002
BBFC Certificate: 15

In 1998 director Hideo Nakata brought Japanese horror worldwide with his breakthrough feature film, Ringu. Adapted on a low budget from the novel by Koji Suzuki, it was a bonafide hit and had audiences clamouring for more ghostly treats from the East. Four year later, Nakata once again dipped into Suzuki’s catalogue to adapt his short story Floating Water into the film Dark Water, titled after the collection it was originally published in.

A very different type of ghost story to Ringu, Dark Water tells the tale of single mother Yoshimi Matsubara trying to care for her six year old daughter Ikuko while navigating a particularly messy divorce in which her ex-husband is attempting to call question on her mental health. When Yoshimi and Ikuko move into a new apartment and discover a lunchbox which once belonged to a girl called Mitsuko Kawai, missing for several months, things take a spooky turn and Yoshimi’s gradually unravelling sanity risks her future with her daughter.

It would be very easy, as many audiences at the time did, to compare Dark Water to Ringu. After all, they’re both adapted by the same filmmaker from works by the same author, but ultimately both films are very different. In place of Ringu’s fast paced, unsettling imagery is a much simpler tale of a mother trying to keep custody of her daughter. Perhaps it’s the parent in me, but there’s something in this kind of storytelling that resonates with me – a scene in which Yoshimi is late picking up Ikuko from her school plays out as a parental embarrassment, but there’s more bubbling up under the surface when a mistake like that could reflect poorly in court.

The ghost story with Mitsuko is almost secondary to this with the two plot strands being largely unrelated apart from how they affect one another. On one hand, frequent ghostly sightings of Mitsuko’s water logged apparition, as well as the mysterious leaks that permeate the apartment building clearly play a part in fraying Yoshimi’s mental state, while on the other, it’s this idea that a child’s disappearance leads this mother to playing detective to try and understand what actually happened, neglecting her own child’s wellbeing in the process.

The scares are well played out by Nakata as well, delivering a proper ghost story with an unsettling atmosphere where things are glimpsed from the corner of eyes, and unexplained images appear on security camera screens. Similar to Ringu and other Japanese horror of the era like Pulse and Ju-On, Dark Water uses its atmosphere to create tension, earning it’s scares when they finally hit home.

The last act in particular, as Yoshimi finally begins to piece together what actually happened to Mitsuko, as the paranormal events in the building begin to build to a crescendo is a slow burn to one of the films more iconic scares. But it’s the final denouement that ultimately has the biggest gut punch, being not terrifying but more quietly devastating as the fragile bond between Yoshimi and her daughter is tested both to its limits and beyond.

Ultimately Dark Water is a much more intimate film in its focus with a relatively small cast,  and we spend most of the run time of the film with Yoshimi and Ikuko. Hitomi Kuroki does a fabulous job playing the mother barely holding it together while young Rio Kanno is excellent as Ikuko, particularly in the more intense scenes at the film’s climax.

This smaller scope can be to its detriment, however, as it can feel a little dragged out over its 101 minute run time, but thankfully it’s also a gorgeous film to look at with cinematographer 

Jun’ichirô Hayashi casting a lens on the grey, bleak streets of the unnamed city where Yoshimi and her daughter live. There is a persistent air of beautiful melancholy to the films muted colours and persistent rain, all brought to the surface in this gorgeous UHD transfer. There’s a nice crisp image and HDR which lets the varied colour palettes on display shine, all leading to a cleanliness to the image which you wouldn’t believe is over 20 years old.

Smaller in scope than Ringu, with less overt scares, Dark Water is still a highly recommended entry into the J-Horror milieu.

Bonus Features

  • Ghosts, Rings and Water – interview with director Hideo Nakata
  • Family Terrors – interview with author Koji Suzuki
  • Visualizing Horror – interview with cinematographer Junichiro HayashiArchive interviews with actors Hitomi Kuroki & Asami Mizukawa and theme song artist Shikao Suga
  • Original ‘making-of’ documentary
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by David Kalat and Michael Gingold

While there are a couple of extra interviews on this UHD release, the bonus features available are, as with many of these reissues, the same as you’d find on the earlier 2016 Blu-Ray release. As this is also quite a scant selection of features, it’s possibly not worth a double dip, but it’s definitely worth picking up if you’re yet to add Dark Water to your collection.

Dark Water (2002 - Arrow Video UHD)
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