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Film / Dark Water

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Dark Water (aka Honogurai Mizu no Soko kara, translating to "From Under the Murky Water") is a 2002 Japanese horror film directed by Hideo Nakata, best known for being the director of Ring and Ring 2. The film is based on Floating Water, a short story by Koji Suzuki (who also wrote the Ring series of novels), from his horror anthology also titled Dark Water. There is also a manga adaptation that holds little similarity to the film, although the apartment building is similar.

The film was remade in the United States in 2005, under the same title.

The film follows Yoshimi Matsubara, who is in the midst of a messy custody battle with her estranged husband over their young daughter, Ikuko. Desperate to prove herself a fit parent, she gets a job as a proofreader for a small publishing house, and moves herself and Ikuko into an an eerie, rundown apartment block. Shortly after moving in, she notices that there's a leaky water stain on her bedroom ceiling, and it's growing by the day. Strange things start happening to the Matsubaras, several of which involve the mysterious appearance (and subsequent re-appearances) of a child's red bag. Yoshimi gradually discovers the horrifying truth behind these events, and realizes that the force haunting the building means to harm her and her daughter.

Not to be confused with the animated TV series The Pirates of Dark Water, or the 2019 Based on a True Story legal thriller Dark Waters.

This film and its remake contain examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: A recurring theme.
    • In the original, Yoshimi claims that Kunio, her ex-husband, can't even be bothered to remember his daughter's birthday, let alone take care of her day-to-day needs. Also, Yoshimi's own mother — as well as Mitsuko's — both completely neglected their children.
    • In the remake, Dahlia makes similar claims about Kyle, but whether the claims are true or not is never expanded upon. Both of Dahlia's parents were abusive - her father physically, her mother emotionally - and both of Natasha's parents abandoned her, due to the fact that each parent believed she was with the other.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Veeck and Kamiya are both equally useless, but the remake upgrades his villainy so that he actually knew about Natasha's body and never bothered to fix it because "it wasn't his job", whereas Kamiya had no idea.
  • Alien Geometries: A subtle example occurs during the original's Distant Finale. The apartment block is now abandoned and has fallen into severe disrepair, but the Matsubaras' old apartment is just as pristine as it was the day Yoshimi died.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese release of the American remake has a different theme song.
  • Ambiguous Situation: In the US version, Dahlia believes that her ex, Kyle, is harassing her. Whether he actually is, or if Dahlia is just paranoid, is left vague.
  • And I Must Scream: Arguably Yoshimi's fate. She dies trapped in an elevator with a vengeful ghost child, who binds her to the apartment building and forces her to become her new mother for eternity.
  • Anti-Villain: Mitofsuko/Natasha may be a spiteful, malevolent ghost, but all she wants is acomplex mother.
  • Apartment Complex of Horrors: The apartment building is haunted by the ghost of a girl who fell into the water tank and drowned due to Parental Neglect, and she ultimately imprisons both Dahlia and Yoshimi in the building for all time, forced to act as her mother. This is exaggerated in the 2005 remake, where the building supervisor knew about Natasha and he and her parents colluded in allowing her body to pollute the water supply. It's also given an extra coda in the original, where the apartment building stays the same a decade later.
  • Artifact of Doom: The red bag (a pink Hello Kitty bag in the remake). Well, more like "Artifact of Dread", but, still, it kind of causes Mitsuko/Natasha's death.
  • Body in a Breadbox: Mitsuko/Natasha's body, in both the original and remake, end up in the water tank of their apartment, although in both cases, she fell in and it was a genuine accident.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • In the original: Yoshimi chooses to stay with Mitsuko and be a mother to her — which involves her dying — so Ikuko can live. Years later, a now 16-year-old Ikuko returns to her old apartment and is briefly reunited with Yoshimi's ghost. Thanks to Mitsuko's intervention, it doesn't last, but Ikuko is left secure in the knowledge that her mother has been protecting her and will always love her.
    • In the remake: Similar to the original, Dahlia chooses to stay — and die — with Natasha so Ceci can live. Three weeks later, Ceci, along with her father, are preparing to move in together. Ceci silently cries over the loss of her mother, but, just before leaving the building, she is apparently visited by Dahlia's spirit, who braids her hair and tells Ceci that if she ever needs her, she'll be there. Kyle notices her braided hair and is confused.
  • Break the Cutie: That is, break all the cuties. Yoshimi herself comes pre-broken, having suffered a mental breakdown several years prior to the events of the film, due in no small part to her less-than-pleasant childhood.
  • Broken Bird: Yoshimi and Dahlia.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Yoshimi becomes convinced that she and Ikuko are being haunted, her fears are met with skepticism. Once her divorce lawyer gives her a few logical explanations for her experiences and strong-arms the building manager into fixing her ceiling, she seems hopeful that her life is on its way back to being normal. It isn't.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Veeck is apparently engaging in a little... alone time whilst watching porn in his apartment before Dahlia interrupts him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The water tank in both versions.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the remake, the way Dahlia braids Ceci's hair.
  • Clingy Macguffin: The red bag. Yoshimi tries numerous times to get rid of it, but it always shows up again.
  • Creator-Driven Successor: To Hideo Nakata's earlier subtle, atmospheric Ghost Story Ring.
  • Creepy Child: Mitsuko and Natasha, big time. Even Ikuko has a couple of moments like this, especially the scene where she starts to open the red bag, as if possessed, with an unbelievably creepy expression on her face.
  • Creepy Doll: There's a few of them in Natasha's room.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Present in both, but taken up to eleven in the American remake.
  • Custody Battle: The plot is spurred by the custody battle between Yoshimi and her estranged husband Kunio over their young daughter, Ikuko, which prompts Yoshimi to move into the haunted apartment.
  • Death by Adaptation: Yoshimi survives Floating Water, but dies in a Heroic Sacrifice in the film.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The flashbacks to Yoshimi's childhood, as well as those showing Mitsuko's final moments, are tinted yellow.
  • Distant Finale: In the Japanese version, following Yoshimi's Heroic Sacrifice, the film moves forward ten years to show a 16-year-old Ikuko revisiting her old apartment, and encountering her mother's spirit.
  • The Faceless: Mitsuko's face is usually partially (sometimes completely) hidden or obscured throughout the movie (it's even difficult to make out in her "missing person" poster) — at least until the climactic elevator scene.
  • Foreshadowing: A subtle example. The puddle of water in the elevator seems inconspicuous at first — until Mitsuko's ghost shows up standing in the same spot during the first visit to the building, and later when Yoshimi is looking for her missing daughter. Flashbacks show that Mitsuko stood in the same spot during her final hours.
    • The imagery during the opening credits is actually Mitsuko's POV in the water tank.
    • Early on, Yoshimi finds a hair inside her glass of water. It turns out there's a decomposing corpse in the apartment block's water tank, and it's been there for years.
  • Fright Beside Them: Yoshimi embraces what she thinks is Ikuko in the elevator...only to see Ikuko enter the hallway.
  • Gainax Ending: The remake. Is the haunting real, is Dahlia just losing her mind — or both?
  • Ghostly Goals: Mitsuko only wants a new mother figure, to make up for the fact that her birth mother was neglectful... and she doesn't want to share her affections with Ikuko.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Mitsuko/Natasha wants Yoshimi/Dahlia to be her mother... but she does not want to share her. Her solution? Repeatedly try to kill Ikuko/Ceci.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Kamiya has shades of this. His remake counterpart, Veeck, is even grumpier and even more of a jerk.
  • Haunted House: The entire apartment complex feels Mitsuko's influence, but Yoshimi's apartment suffers from it most of all.
  • Hazardous Water: Well, yes.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Mitsuko yelling "MAMAAA!" during the climax is nightmarish.
  • Homage: The scene where water crashes out of the elevator is a reference to the infamous bloody elevator scene in the film version of The Shining.
  • Hope Spot: The mystery behind the Kawai's old apartment is uncovered, and Kishida convinces Yoshimi not to move out, at least until the custody battle is over. The "hauntings" have stopped, and everything seems okay. Then Mitsuko's red bag suddenly reappears...
    • The American Remake does this too: Dahlia calls the police and Natasha's body is recovered, Veeck is arrested and it's implied Murray will be questioned for knowing about Natasha's disappearance, and Dahlia is able to patch things up with Kyle and it seems the custody battle is over. Seems everything will be resolved right? Well Natasha has't left yet...
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: "Itsy Bitsy Spider" in the remake.
  • Jerkass:
    • Kunio Hamada's not much interested in Ikuko, but he has no problems lying to his lawyers about Yoshimi's past or hiring a private investigator to spy on his ex-wife and daughter if it means he'll get a leg up over her in their custody hearings.
    • Both Kamiya and Veeck. They're grumpy, extremely disdainful of Yoshimi and Dahlia's concerns, and aren't bothered to do their jobs properly. Also, in Veeck's case, he knew about Natasha's decomposing corpse in the water tank, but decided to leave it in there because "it wasn't his job". He also was told by Natasha's parents to lie to authorities about them abandoning her.
    • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kyle, Kunio's remake counterpart. He's still a dick, yes, but he truly believes Dahlia isn't a fit mother, and unlike Kunio, he really does care for his daughter and wants what's best for her. Near the end, when Dahlia talks to him about wanting to share custody of Ceci, he jumps onto the idea, showing that all his behavior was solely his desire to protect his daughter more than anything.
  • Jump Scare: A few, but Mitsuko denting the water tank from inside is a particularly notable example. Shame the trailer spoils it.
    • In the remake, when Dahlia discovers Natasha's corpse, she sees the latter's eyes suddenly open for a split second.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The scene where teenage Ikuko enters the apartment and sees her mother's ghost is shot in a continuous take.
  • Mama Bear: Yoshimi and Dahlia.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The original short story, Floating Water, isn't entirely clear if there's a haunting at all, or if it's all in Yoshimi's head. In the Japanese film, it's almost definitely a real haunting. The US remake, however, makes a point of being much more vague.
  • Meaningful Background Event: When Yoshimi finds Ikuko wandering in a daze in the Kawai's flooded apartment, Mitsuko's shadow is cast on the wall for a few seconds. Later, during the Distant Finale, Mitsuko appears behind Ikuko, glaring at her.
  • Mind Screw: The American remake is incredibly vague on whether it was all in Dahlia's mind, or a true haunting. Or both. It is also vague as to whether Kyle really is harassing her or not.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: While the American remake makes a point of differentiating itself from The Ring and The Grudge by downplaying the overt horror elements of the original and becoming more of a character study/psychological thriller with a focus on paranoia and atmosphere over scares, the trailers used scenes that weren't in the final cut of the film, misplaced dialogue, and snappy editing to represent it as a generic jump scare movie.
  • Nice Guy: Yoshimi's lawyer, Kishida. He takes Yoshimi under his wing after her break down, and tries to help her until the very end. This also applies to Jeff Platzer, the US counterpart to Kishida, who calls out Murray for how apathetic he acts over the situation and is willing to support Dahlia after a sheer hellish week.
  • Nightmare Face: Mitsuko. When her face is finally revealed, it is horribly rotted from years spent decomposing in the water tank.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A good amount of both films run on this.
  • Oh, Crap!: Yoshimi towards the end. If Ikuko is in the hallway... then who's in the elevator with her?
    • Yoshimi gets another one earlier on when she finally pieces together the truth: the day the water tank was last cleaned was the same day Mitsuko went missing.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ikuko is usually called Iku-chan by her mother. Cecilia is usually referred to as Ceci.
  • Parental Abandonment: Yoshimi was abandoned by her mother at a young age. The same thing happened to Mitsuko. It's pretty obvious why Yoshimi feels some empathy for the little ghost.
  • Parental Substitute: Yoshimi and Dahlia find themselves forced to assume this role to Mitsuko and Natasha.
  • Pottery Barn Poor: Noticeably averted, as Roger Ebert lampshaded in his review, saying it was actually refreshing to see a recently-divorced single mother moving into a squalid one-bedroom apartment instead of the palaces that film and sitcom characters who complain about poverty usually inhabit.
  • Product Placement: Hello Kitty, Barbie and Subway in the remake.
  • Psychological Horror: Both the Japanese and US versions, with the former being more overtly supernatural as well. The latter plays up the psychological aspects more by leaving it ambiguous as to whether there really is a haunting or not.
  • Shout-Out: The continuous sightings of the little girl in the raincoat (and the mystery around her) is reminiscent of Don't Look Now.
  • Slasher Smile: May or may not be intentional, but the smile on Ikuko's face when she first discovers the red bag is unsettling. Much later, when the bag reappears, her smile is so much worse. Her smiling, and the way the scenes are filmed imply that she may be supernaturally compelled to pick up and open the bag.
  • Smug Smiler: Yoshimi's ex, Kunio.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The remake. Possibly. Possibly the original short story.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The big scare involving the water tank in the original.
  • Wham Shot:
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Mitsuko/Natasha. She was neglected by her mother, and drowns to death, her body never recovered. Her anguish keeps her from moving on, and she roams the building's halls in search of a new mother.