Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dark Water (2002, Honogurai mizu no soko kara)

Ghost stories are always impossible.  Obviously, right?  I’m talking specifically about the way ghosts go about their business in the movies.  I accept that they are ghosts, but why are they so cryptic?  If they can make contact with the living, why not make their messages clear?  One might argue that as the story begins the ghost hasn’t achieved full power.  I counter with, if they can contact just a little, they had better say a whole lot.

Yet the opposite is always the case.  Dark Water, the original 2002 Japanese thriller, is just about as perfect and predictable as a ghost movie can be.  It’s dark in the right places, quiet too; the soundtrack jumps a lot and many of the tense scenes have a constant sound of pressure in the background.  The characters make stupid decisions, and the ghost is always elusive, dropping clues, willing to communicate but for the sake of carrying a horror film it remains glib.  Another thought—why do the ghosts’ abilities to communicate strengthen as the running time increases?  I guess to keep the inconsistencies coming.

I didn’t like this movie.  I kept waiting for it to end.  At first I was bored.  Dark Water in this regard is very consistent for the first 70 minutes.  We meet Yoshimi Mastaubara, the mother of 6 year old Ikuko.  Yoshimi is in the process of settling her divorce, and while the material goods have been agreed upon, the biggest good hasn’t: Ikuko.  For the time being, Ikuko is sole property of Yoshimi, who is a great mom.  She tries to be and is indeed very loving.  She has a knack for being late to pick Ikuko up from kindergarten.  She is also suffering some effects of the pressure of her divorce.  Her new apartment is leaking, and that is an understatement.  The more the black water infiltrates her home, the more unstable Yoshimi becomes.  This sounds good so far, but the ghost story kicks in arbitrarily.  Extremely late one afternoon, Yoshimi, while searching for her missing daughter, sees a poster of a girl who has been missing for 2 years.  Yoshimi has visions or dreams or insights about this girl.  She knows things logically she shouldn’t know.  She also sees the girl in the apartment above, where the water comes from.  Well, “seeing” is a stretch as this missing girl, even in the photo on the poster, always has hair covering her eyes and for some reason is kind of blurry around the face.

Dark Water, as I understand it, began a trend that thankfully has passed in horror films.  The ghost in these kinds of stories is always a little girl with long black hair, often covering the eyes, and they have died in connection to water.  That’s why they’re always wet.  They also wear white flowing pajamas.  I can name a half dozen films that all seem to have originated from this film, so while it may have been fresh in 2002, now it is hackneyed and laughable.

I said that the film is standard for the first 70 minutes and this is true.  The final ten or so really put me off.  The film starts off as a frivolous horror picture, a very slow and boring one, but it becomes something more sinister and uncomfortable.  The story becomes a parallel for horrific parenting, and the final image of the climax, the daughter Ikuko all wet, crying, lying on the floor in front of an elevator waiting for the mother who has seemingly abandoned her, is tasteless.  I felt as if I were watching pornography.  That’s an insult to porn because at least there is a point to pornography.  Why all of a sudden does Dark Water resort to tormenting a child on screen?  I don’t mean the actress.  The character is put through some awful stuff that really in the context of contemporary horror films isn’t that shocking, but it uncomfortable to see.  I had already checked out of the movie but in these last few minutes I was tempted to shut it off.

A question I would normally ask myself right about now—‘doesn’t that mean the movie was effective?’  I’m afraid not in this case.  The 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw was a movie I swore to myself that I would never watch again.  It was twisted and bloody, but as the weekend passed I kept thinking about the artistry of that film, and for what it was it was brilliant.  Dark Water resorts to tricking its audience into sympathy by using a child to heighten the impact of the horror.  It’s tasteless and, more offensively, pointless.  And if you’re dying to see this film, I’d recommend the American remake which is a very effective, depressing psychological thriller.

Dark Water (2002)
(a.k.a. Honogurai mizu no soko kara)
Director: Hideo Nakata
Writer: Ken'ichi Suzuki
Stars: Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno and Mirei Oguchi
In Japanese
Runtime: 101 minutes

Purchase the original Dark Water from Amazon:

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