Dark Water

Dark Water

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Divorce is like a fever. It makes you ill. Amidst the legal wrangling between once-loving partners, the world twists out of shape. What was real becomes false, tainted by mistrust. There is a genuine fear that lawyers might find a way to take your child from you.

In such an atmosphere, Yoshimo moves into a rundown apartment block with her five-year-old daughter, Ikuko. The place resembles a low grade Japanese equivalent of the hotel in Barton Fink. Nothing quite works; the plumbing's all to hell; there's water dripping from the ceiling in the bedroom; very few people inhabit the place.

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Slowly it emerges that they are not entirely alone. A little girl about Ikuko's age, in a yellow mac, with a red plastic bag, is glimpsed on the roof, in the elevator, along an empty corridor. A year earlier, a child fitting that description disappeared from the apartment above. She was never found. Yoshimo's imagination creates a separate horror, that Ikuko's new friend is a ghost who wishes to replicate her passing, as if the loneliness of the unburied yearns for affection in death.

Hideo Nakata returns to the wellspring of his second film, Ring, which became an international hit, spawning an American remake. Dark Water is also based on a novel by Koji Suzuki and concerns the paranormal.

Nakata's technique is to imply terror by suggestion, rather than the overuse of special effects. He depends upon the collaboration of his actors to create a feeling of uncontrollable fear. Once the blocks are removed from what is understood to be life's rich tapestry and a separate element introduced that obeys no rational rule of cause-and-effect, madness claws at the walls and harmony becomes obsolete, like the nuclear family.

Hitomi Kuroki brilliantly conveys the neurotic, paranoid emotions of Yoshimo, whose inability to remain safe in her own head exacerbates the likelihood that the court might find her an unfit mother, thereby destroying her will to live and, in some bizarre way, increase the power of the fantastic child to influence the workings of a dysfunctional plumbing system.

Rio Kanno, as Ikuko, is equally remarkable. You watch her innocence scatter like marbles across the floor of the film. "I don't need anyone but you," Ikuko tells Yoshimo and you cannot tell whether she means it, or is responding to her mother's unspoken desire. Kanno's intelligent little face reflects, with the clarity of a mirror, the worst fear of all, that someone will tear them apart.

There is a postscript which seems entirely unnecessary. It would be good to miss this. The image that precedes it, however ambiguous, will leave a stain on your memory that the final 10 minutes attempts to wipe clean.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2003
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Obvious but effective Japanese horror from the director and writer of Ring.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Hideo Nakata

Writer: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Ken-ichi Suzuki, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki

Starring: Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi, Asami Mizukawa, Fumiyo Kohinata, Shigemitsu Ogi

Year: 2002

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan

Festivals:

EIFF 2002

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