In my ongoing search for a truly scary horror film, the latest flick is another one of those great Japanese films which end up getting the mediocre Hollywood remake. Dark Water, or Honogurai No Mizu Soko Kara, literally ”something dark out of the bottom of the water”, the 2002 original, is a brainchild of the director Hideo Nakata, known for Ring and Ring2.
The setting of the film is a family crisis. Yoshimi and Ikuto Matsubara; a mother and a child of six, move into a run-down high-rise. Yoshimi is in the middle of a divorce and is striving to secure Ikuto's custodianship over her bastardly ex-husband. As soon as they have settled in their new home, a wet patch appears in the ceiling and water drips into the bedroom, but the superintendent isn't inclined to do anything about it. Soon, Yoshimi learns about a little girl who went missing two years before and, somehow, it seems to connect with the strange goings-on in the building. Something is out to get her and Ikuto.
At a first glance, little details and flashbacks from Yoshimi's life seem nothing but a poor attempt to grow substance on the protagonist. One is equally inclined to dismiss the similarities between her life, Ikuto's life, and that of Mitsuko, the missing girl, as nothing more but cheap mythology. But if for some reason you were rather taken with the film, as I was, you might afford the story another look.
Water is the theme of the film, and the story is very much like that, too – it is transparent, intangible with some murky bits, and it moves around in circles. Water is the symbol of death and birth, and in a roundabout way, the story connects water, life, and motherhood. Yoshimi's own life has been deeply impacted by her irresponsible mother. The film works the age-old 'wronged ghost' formula into the story; Yoshimi repeats the cycle of abandonment until she is forced to make good in order to save her daughter's life.
Yoshimi Matsubara seems like a typical character of the genre: weak, scared and spineless (probably pretty close to a real person, if you think about it). In cultural context, she is a very typical Japanese woman who has had a career until she go married, and she lands on nothing when the marriage goes awry. The story also hints that Yoshimi was fairly successful before getting married, and has no problem securing a job in a small publishing company.