Memories in the Depths
Water can give life and take it away, but what is the lure of Dark Water?
Remaking Japanese horror films has become very popular in Hollywood, and the latest to join the ranks is the Americanization of Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara, more commonly known as Dark Water.
Originally a novella entitled Floating Water, it was penned by the 'Stephen King of Japan,' Koji Suzuki, who also wrote the Ring quadrilogy, and the story was included in his 1996 anthology Dark Water, in which all of the stories were themed around water.
The tale followed single mother Yoshimi Matsubara, a proofreader, and her six-year-old daughter Ikuko as they moved into an aging apartment block in one of the more unpleasant wards of Tokyo. Yoshimi recently separated from her husband, and the pair are in the middle of an unpleasant custody dispute with Ikuko at the center. Yoshimi, who had a nervous breakdown whilst working on a horror novel some years before, is fighting for her daughter, while her husband accuses her of being an unfit parent, so they are forced to move into the run-down block on a landfill site, near the shores of the Tone River.
Of course, this is no ordinary apartment. Within days of moving in, Yoshimi notices a dark water stain slowly spreading across the ceiling, and then water begins to leak through the plaster. Around the same time, while letting off fireworks on the roof of the block, young Ikuko discovers a bag featuring Japan's favorite mascot, Kitty-chan (aka Hello Kitty). Despite handing in the bag to the building's aging superintendent, Kamiya, it continues to reappear in Ikuko's possession, and she starts talking about her 'friend' Mitsuko, and how she 'loves taking baths all by herself.' It doesn't take Yoshimi long to discover that Mitsuko -- or Mit-chan -- Kawai went missing some time previously, and she was the young daughter of the family who lived directly above Yoshimi and Ikuko's apartment.
Despite being a novella, Floating Water possessed a chilling quality which made it an ideal choice for a horror movie. Thus in 2002, Hideo Nakata took the helm to direct Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara, starring Hitomi Kuroki. Following the same plot as the novella, the movie pushed the supernatural focus to the maximum, and chronicled Yoshimi's descent into madness as the water stain spreads across the ceiling of her dingy apartment. The only deviation from the book is its addendum ending, showing the sixteen-year-old Ikuko returning to the condemned apartment block.
Mitsuko becomes a wraith in a yellow raincoat, and the red Kitty-chan bag gains an almost sentient quality, as its appearance signals Yoshimi's descent into insanity. The film itself is dark, both in tone and film quality, but this only adds to the overall experience. In fact, it is this and the sheer simplicity of the plot that makes it such an engaging and terrifying experience. Yet unlike Koji Suzuki's other feminine creation, the vengeful Sadako Yamamura, the theatrical incarnation of Mitsuko only wants one thing: her mother, It is possible to feel pity for this poor child, despite her single-minded desire to claim Yoshimi.
The success of the novella and the movie also inspired a manga. Drawn by Meimu, it followed the mould of Koji Suzuki's original anthology and featured four stories, including Dark Water that was essentially adapted from the movie. The manga manages to convey the terror of the original story in pictorial form. It's clear that once you realise precisely what's going on, like Yoshimi, you'll wish that you hadn't.
An American adaptation of Nakata's acclaimed film was announced in the wake of the success of Gore Verblinski's version of The Ring, and it stars Jennifer Connelly as Dahlia Williams. Adapted directly from the original Japanese film, it essentially follows the same storyline. Dahlia and her young daughter Ceci move into a dilapidated apartment in Manhattan, which seems ideal for the two of them to start a new life. There's a nice view, it's two minutes from Ceci's new school, and Dahlia has a new job. Then she notices a dark strain in the corner of the bedroom, and it begins to spread through the plaster. Soon black water is dripping from the ceiling, and she realizes that the apartment block is not the safe haven that they thought it would be. How is water dripping through the ceiling when there hasn't been a tenant in the room above them for years? Why does the elevator randomly stop on the tenth floor? Who is Natasha?
Koji Suzuki's anthology Dark Water is published by Vertical. The DVD of Dark Water is available in the UK from Tartan Entertainment, and in the US from ADV Films, who have also translated and released the manga by Meimu. Dark Water is playing at theatres worldwide.