Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi
Directed by Hideo Nakata
There’s just something about Hideo Nakata and H20. From the deep brine terror of the Ring films to the rain-soaked streets of Chaos, it’s obvious the Japanese filmmaker has an issue with liquids. And nowhere is it more evident than in the highly-touted Dark Water, which has finally emerged from the murky depths and onto DVD.
One of the best examples of Asian horror, Dark Water is an exercise in slow-mounting tension and, many would argue, Nakata’s ultimate masterpiece. The story revolves around recently-divorced Yoshihiro Matsubara, who moves into an old leaky apartment complex with her 6-year-old daughter. The poor woman tries desperately to adjust to life as a single parent but runs into problems at every turn — problems that are being used against her in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband. As pressures mount, Yoshihiro learns that the building’s “leaks” emanate from the haunted apartment above her and that its ghostly occupant may pose a serious threat to her young daughter.
At first glance this appears to be a straight-forward ghost tale, especially when held up to the metaphysical Ring movies. But behind Dark Water’s simple premise is a story rich with vivid characters, thematic elements, and emotional complexity. Nakata sets it all against a creepy back-drop and communicates fear through the same subtle tactics that now define Japanese horror. Special effects and jump scares are once again abandoned in favor of pure atmospheric dread.
A common complaint is that anyone with an understanding of ghost stories can easily piece together the film’s spooky revelations. But Dark Water isn’t designed to be a mystery. This is a dramatic film about a mother’s life struggle which crosses over into the realm of the dead, where the horror is not the fear of death, but abandonment. It’s a rare piece of work – an intellectual horror film that manages to be both scary and emotional, often at the same time.
Stylish, taut, heartbreaking, and above all, terrifying, Dark Water stands as a modern-day classic that hits all the right cinematic notes. So it comes as a relief that ADV Films (a company that has a less-than-stellar record with live action titles) has given it a respectable presentation on DVD. The gloomy, washed-out hues look every bit as clean as the international editions, and the 5.1 Japanese track does a nice job with the rich sound design and Kenji Kawai’s ambient score.
For the illiterate and otherwise tasteless, there’s a god-awful English dub (also in 5.1) which succeeds in destroying every bit of seriousness from the film (you can literaly find better dubs in kung-fu flicks). And honestly, its inclusion only makes Dark Water accessible to the sort of people who wouldn’t enjoy a slow-burn horror movie. Aside from the original Japanese trailer, the disc is relatively bare-bones, which is just as well considering the company’s tendency for self-important extras (interviews with the dubbers, unfunny “joke” commentaries, etc).
After years of waiting it’s nice to finally have the real Dark Water on DVD. Kudos to ADV Films for getting it out before the pointless FX-laden Hollywood redux. Now let’s all forget The Ring Two ever happened, okay? This film is a real testament to the modern master of horror.
Dark Water (2002)
Directed By Hideo Nakata
Starring Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, and Mirei Oguchi
Available Audio Tracks: Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Original Japanese Trailer
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