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Dark Water (Nakata Hideo 2002)


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Dark Water
[Honogurai mizu no soko kara]

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Dark Water is director Nakata Hideo's latest horror film. Nakata's previous outstanding horror successes include Ringu (1998), Ringu 2 (1999), and Kaosu (1999). Much of the Ringu cast returns for Dark Water, which is also based on a novel written by author of the Ring trilogy, Suzuki Koji. Kawai Kenji, who produced the score for Ringu, also handles the soundtrack for Nakata's newest work.


There is a torrential downpour outside the small Japanese kindergarten as a lone little girl, Yoshimi, sullenly waits for someone to pick her up from school. The parents of her classmates have all come and gone and her friends are by now in their warm and dry homes. A teacher enters the room, finds her there and asks how she is, but Yoshimi stares despondently out into the pouring rain. This was a flashback, we realize; a memory of the middle-aged Matsubara Yoshimi now sitting in a waiting room, staring out the window at a similar torrential downpour. She is waiting to be called before the divorce hearing from which her estranged husband will soon emerge. Her divorce proceedings have been brutal and emotionally exhausting, especially as regards the custody battle for their 5 year old daughter, Ikuko. Yoshimi's history is not without its skeletons, such as a brief mental breakdown due to stress and an apparently recurring anxiety caused by the emotional abandonment she suffered as a child (evidenced in her flashbacks). Her estranged husband uses this history every chance he gets to undermine her position with the hearing committee, hoping that she is deemed an unfit mother. To strengthen her position before the committe and demonstrate that she will indeed be a provider of stability for Ikuko, she must set out that very day to look for an apartment for herself and Ikuko.

Yoshimi and Ikuko, each with umbrella in hand, walk in the pouring rain to a rundown apartment complex. The 7 story building seems to be a remnant of a bygone building boom which is tucked away at the edge of town. Its only redeeming value is its close proximity to Yoshimi's old kindergarten which Ikuko will soon begin attending. Outside the building they are met by Ohta, the real estate agent in charge of showing the building. He has just finished showing an apartment here to larger family who seems glad to leave and in no particular interest of renting. Ohta anxiously greets Yoshimi and shows them inside to the gray cement lobby and the small office from which the elderly building manager, Kamiya, watches the hallways and elevator by means of closed-circuit cameras. The apartment is on a higher floor and so Ohta shuffles Yoshimi and Ikuko onto the elevator and proceeds to the third floor. The elevator floor is wet from a small leak in its roof. As the elevator door closes, Ohta yells at Kamiya that something needs to be done about that leak, to which Kamiya mumbles something with no intent of doing anything. On the way up, little Ikuko places her hand in Yoshimi's, apparently excited about the prospect of having her own room. When the elevator doors open, Ikuko is the first to exit, running down the hall. Yoshimi then realizes the sensation of someone still holding her hand and quickly looks behind her but sees only her own hand "holding" thin air. From his vantage in the manager's office below, Kamiya suddenly leans forward into the TV screen, thinking he just saw another little girl in the back of the elevator.

The apartment itself is rather old and unattractive, but certainly holds enough room for the two of them. Ikuko excitedly runs to look at her new room as Ohta shows Yoshimi around the rest of the apartment. While in the bedroom Yoshimi mentions how damp the room feels, and Ohta confesses that the building is indeed old. Ohta then spots a basketball-sized water stain on the bedroom ceiling, and quickly diverts Yoshimi's tour to the kitchen. As the tour wraps up, Ikuko is nowhere to be found inside the apartment and so Yoshimi frantically searches the hallway and makes her way down to the manager's office. There she meets some rather strange residents who, when asked whether they have seen small Ikuko come by, consult their dog and inform Yoshimi that he (the dog) hasn't seen her. Peering into the TV monitors in the manager's office, Yoshimi sees Ikuko exiting the elevator on the 7th floor. She anxiously waits for the elevator to return to the first floor and then begins her ascent in pursuit. Meanwhile, from the top floor Ikuko has found her way onto the expansive roof which offers a clear view toward every horizon. Running and skipping, Ikuko comes across an apparently discarded cute red shoulder bag with a white bunny (mimiko) decal. Placing her new bag on her shoulder, Ikuko skips back toward the door in time to see her frantic mother emerge. After asking Ikuko what (in the h*ll do you think) she is doing, Yoshimi spots the bag and asks about it. Once back in the lobby, they ask the building manager whose it might be, but he informs them that no child currently lives in the building. Opening up the bag they discover it filled with all the types of things one would expect in a little girl's bag. When they offer it all to Ikuko, Yoshimi strongly objects on the grounds that it must belong to someone else. Kamiya sets up a little "lost and found" box in the lobby and places the red bag in it.

On moving day, after the movers have come and gone, Yoshimi and Ikuko begin to enjoy the space of their new apartment. After hearing the sound of running feet on the floor above them, they laughingly note that they can hear other people and so they'll need to be careful not to be too loud for others. Looking up to where the footsteps emanate, Yoshimi discovers the dark circular water stain.

The next morning, Yoshimi and Ikuko get themselves ready for Ikuko's first day at her new kindergarten. After rehearsing the greeting she will be required to make in front of her new classmates, Ikuko finishes up getting dressed while Yoshimi heads into the bedroom. There she hears the slow dripping of water and finds a small puddle on the floor. Looking up she discovers that the water stain has grown larger and is now slowly leaking. Getting a cloth and a small basin, she wipes up the water on the floor and places the basin under the leak. As she touches the water, she is overcome with dizziness and a sharp headache (and ominous music suddenly is heard in the background). She heads to the kitchen, grabs two aspirin and gulps them down with a glass of water. The taste of the water is suprisingly strange and Yoshimi peers through the glass looking for the cause. Nothing is in the water. Still, she senses something strange and roughly throws the water back into the sink.

Yoshimi and Ikuko head out of the apartment and onto the elevator. Ikuko finds the button to the 1st floor eerily smudged and Yoshimi protectively pulls Ikuko's hand away. Once in the lobby, Yoshimi informs the building manager about the leaking ceiling. He replies that the building is indeed old and since he can't do anything without the owner's permission, he first needs to file a report. After arriving at the new school, Yoshimi anxiously peers from the hallway as Ikuko's introduction and greeting go off without a hitch. She is invited back to the principal's office for tea and there witnesses the administrative scolding of a small boy for calling his teacher "fat" and "stupid" (baka). Yoshimi seems embarassed to watch the discipline, which amounts to the verbal scolding of the quietly sobbing boy.

Once back at the apartment, Yoshimi commences tidying up the place. As she carries some empty boxes out of the bedroom, she accidentally knocks over the basin of water on the floor spilling it everywhere. Upset, she looks up and sees that the stain is continuing to grow and that the rate of the leak is increasing. Discarding the boxes in the garbage cans outside, she sees the red bag thrown out with the trash. Apparently no one came to claim the lost bag. With the increasing dripping and the persistent noise of footsteps upstairs, Yoshimi decides to visit her upstairs neighbors. The fourth floor hallway is deserted, as is most of the apartment complex. No one comes to the door despite repeated ringing and knocking. As she boards the elevator to go back down, she sees the apartment door open slightly and the figure of a small girl peer out. The figure appears blurred and grayish through the windows of the closing elevator doors. Yoshimi tries to stop the elevator but must wait for it to arrive at the third floor and once again ascend to the fourth floor. She again pounds on the apartment door but no one answers. From her apartment Yoshimi calls the building manger to inquire regarding the repair of the leak, and the manager continues his excuses. Meanwhile Ikuko stares into the basin gradually filling with the drips of water.

The next day, Yoshimi attends a job interview which takes longer than expected. Although she certainly has the experience required, she has been out of the work arena for six years raising Ikuko. The manager conducting the interview is continuously distracted by the demands of the office, leaving Yoshimi alone in the interview room worrying about the fact that Ikuko is now waiting to be picked up from kindergarten. While Yoshimi calls the school and waits for someone to pick up the phone, she has another flashback of her childhood: The small Yoshimi is waiting alone in the classroom when the phone rings. The teacher answers it and is clearly upset with Yoshimi's mother who is calling to say she can't make the pickup. When the teacher asks who, then, will come to pick her up, the mother thinks and then suggests the father do it. The exasperated teacher turns to little Yoshimi and with pity in her voice tells her that her father must come (again) to get her. Little Yoshimi stares sadly ahead. When no one answers the phone, Yoshimi snaps out of the memory and abruptly excuses herself from the interview. On her way out she locates the manager and briefly recaps her work experience before bolting for the door. By the time she reaches the kindergarten it is dark outside and everyone appears to have left. She calls out for Ikuko, but there is no answer. Looking around, she sees an flyer posted to a lamppost. It is a missing persons poster and contains the details and a eerily faded photo of a young kindergarten student, Kawai Mitsuko, who has been missing for two years. This sends chills up Yoshimi's spine and she searches all the more frantically for Ikuko. In the distance she sees Ikuko walking with a man in a suit. As she catches up with them, she sees that the man is her estranged husband. She quickly grabs Ikuko and attempts to yank her away. The husband yells at Yoshimi for being irresponsible as Yoshimi looks at Ikuko and gathers her repose.

As the two walk home, Yoshimi apologizes and both Ikuko and Yoshimi promise each other that they will be happy with each other in their new life together. Seeing a family playing with sparklers in the park, Yoshimi decides to buy some for Ikuko, and once home, they head up to the building's roof to light them up. On the elevator ride up, the elevator stops on the fourth floor, but no one boards. Yoshimi peers out of the elevator but sees no one in the deserted hallways. Once on the 7th floor, they approach the door to the roof, when, through an opening in the door, Yoshimi thinks she sees the shape of a little girl float past. Doing a double take, she finds the door to the roof closed. (Despite this premonition) Ikuko is the first one out the door with Yoshimi slowly following behind. A few steps away from the door, Ikuko again finds the red bag and by the time Yoshimi sees what is happening, she is picking it up. Yoshimi screams hysterically and rushes to Ikuko. She grabs the bag and Ikuko, causing Ikuko to complain that Yoshimi is hurting her. Yoshimi makes a bee-line for the garbage and promptly discards the bag in the trash. Apparently deciding to forego the fireworks, the two settle into the steaming bath to wash the day's stress away. As Yoshimi dries herself off, she hears Ikuko playing and talking to an invisible friend in the bath water. This strikes Yoshimi as a little odd, and requests Ikuko to get out of the bath.

At kindergarten the next day, Ikuko and her classmates engage in a game of hide-and-seek. When Ikuko tries to hide with a couple of girls, they push her out and point her to the back room where she hides under a cluttered table at the end of a long hallway. After declaring that she is hidden and ready to be searched for, she waits quietly, intently listening for sounds of someone coming to look for her. From down the hallway, she hears the shuffle of footsteps and from her vantage under the table is able to make out the legs of a small child in white soggy shoes. As the footsteps get nearer, the sound of sloshing increases until the approaching child stops in her tracks several feet away. The water dripping from her feet increases and begins to crawl hurriedly along the floor toward Ikuko who sits fixated at the sight. The scene suddenly shifts to that of Yoshimi arriving at the school in a taxi and rushing inside to find Ikuko laying unconscious and soaking wet in a school cot. Yoshimi is understandably shocked at the quality of care Ikuko has received and begins to vent her anger, but is pulled aside by the principal who suggests the stress of the recent divorce may have had something to do with Ikuko's condition. While the principal is talking, Yoshimi sees on a wall filled with pictures drawn by the students the picture of a small girl in a yellow jacket. The artist had written in large crayon: "Mitsuko, please come home soon". Noticing Yoshimi's attention to the picture, the prinipal explains that it is of a missing girl unheard of for two years. Finding herself drawn to the picture, Yoshimi suddenly realizes that the little girl in the picture is carrying a red bag. Ominous music and bad vibes ensue.

Back at the next divorce hearing, the recent turn of events does not bode well for Yoshimi, as the husband exaggerates the after-school incident and the events leading up to Ikuko's sudden illness. As Yoshimi exits the committee and the husband is called in, she watches as he vigorously puts out his cigarette, and vividly sees/imagines him snuffing out a cigarette on the elevator button (causing the smudge they noticed earlier). This "realization" that the husband will stop at nothing to disrupt her successful divorce causes her to go berserk, screaming and punching her husband, all in front of the committee. As she sits collapsed on the floor, she is approached by a sympathetic lawyer. He invites her to an adjoining office and discusses her situation over tea. He offers her some advice regarding strategy (probably starting with "Don't go berserk in front of the committee"). He ends the meeting telling her to contact him should she need anything, and encourages her to be strong. She tearfully and gratefully replies that she will make greater effort.

Yoshimi arrives back at the apartment where her aunt has been watching over the still sleeping Ikuko. After seeing her aunt to the door, she sits on the floor beside Ikuko's bed and falls asleep. As she sleeps, the ever-increasing water stain on the ceiling has reached over the bed and drips down upon her cheek. The water causes Yoshimi to have a portentious dream: A little girl wearing a yellow raincoat and red bag waits quietly at the kindergarten door staring out into the heavy rain. Pulling the jacket's yellow hood over her head before we can see her face, she heads out into the rain for the long walk home. As we see her trudging through the puddles, we realize that these are the same little legs and soggy white shoes Ikuko saw while hiding. The little girl's wet journey brings her to the apartment complex in which Yoshimi and Ikuko now reside. The little girl waits for the elevator and then boards. With her back turned, she slowly removes the hood and begins to turns around. As her face slowly comes into view, Yoshimi sees that it is the same blurred face as that of the missing person's flyer. Yoshimi is startled awake to find herself and Ikuko's empty bed soaking wet beneath the huge ceiling stain now pouring water down upon her. Yoshimi (again) frantically searches for Ikuko throughout the apartment, into the hallway, and down to the manager's office. Staring intently into the TV monitors she sees nothing except the empty elevator heading toward the 7th floor. Recalling Ikuko's previous excursion to the roof, she anxiously waits for the elevator to return and proceeds to the top floor. As she rides the elevator up, she hears the muffled, echoing laughter of a small child from within the elevator but turns to find nothing. From the TV monitor, however, we clearly see that a small child is standing behind her in the elevator. As she makes her way to the roof door, she is hit with an ominous blast of wind despite the door being closed. It is dark under the night sky as Yoshima slowly makes her way about the deserted roof until she finds herself standing before a large water tank. From the corner of her eye she sees a small child peer out from behind the tower and quickly duck back behind. Water is overflowing from the tower as she slowly makes her way up the first ladder at the base of the tank. As she reaches the top of the first tier, she sees the red bag and screams hysterically. Running back into the apartment, she frantically calls the husband and asks whether he somehow has Ikuko. While he is replying in bewilderment, Yoshimi hears footsteps running across the ceiling from the apartment upstairs. Thinking it is Ikuko, she drops the phone and rushes to the 4th floor. After ringing the bell and pounding on the door, she grabs the knob and discovers the door is unlocked. As she opens the door, water gushes out into the hallway. The interior of the apartment is an incredible mess as water literally streams from every wall, crack and crevice. Water is inches deep throughout the apartment and water is running full blast from the sinks and bathtub. Amidst the crescendoing sound of water everywhere, Yoshima can hear children laughing and talking from within the dark apartment. Deeper within, she finds a soaking wet Ikuko sleep walking. As she picks Ikuko up and turns toward the door, Yoshimi stops dead in her tracks when she clearly sees the shadow of a little, long-haired girl on the wall. Though terrified, Yoshimi slowly makes her way toward the door and out into the hallway. Once there, she sees that the name on the apartment is that of the missing girl's family (Kawai) and lists the name Mitsuko as the child living there.

The next morning, the good lawyer show up at the apartment and finds Yoshimi hurriedly packing. She is still rather hysterical from the night before and now considers the building a danger to the health of Ikuko. This pricks the lawyer's ear and he suddenly decides to call Ohta the realtor and Kamiya the dopey manager up to the 4th floor apartment for a look around. As they all enter the suprisingly unlocked apartment, with Yoshimi bringing up the rear, they find the apartment in true disarray and flooded throughout, though lacking all the streaming water and open faucets. As the lawyer grills them over the deplorable condition of the apartment, they realize that no one ever checked up on the apartment and the former resident, the mother of the missing child. While Ohta and Kamiya blame each other, the lawyer hauls everyone up to the roof to check out the water tank. There they note the location where the red bag was originally found by Ikuko, and examine the dirty water tank where Yoshimi claims to have seen a little girl. The lawyer inquires how frequently the tank is cleaned, to which Kamiya mumbles angrily that it is done "routinely" and stomps away toward the door followed by Ohta. The lawyer then theorizes and suggests to Yoshimi that she in fact saw a reflection from one of the neighboring buildings. Within a few days, the repairmen are there patching up the apartment ceiling, covering over the now familiar stain as the lawyer looks on. He reassures Yoshimi and repeats the invitation for her to call if she needs anything.

The following day things seem to be slowly getting back to normal for our two leading ladies and over a nice dinner they agree that the water has a strange taste. At the end of the meal, Yoshimi retrieves her purse and finds inside... the RED BAG! Repeatedly asking Ikuko whether she is responsible for the bag's reappearance, Ikuko can do nothing but scream denials. Yoshimi quickly picks up the phone to call the lawyer but finds that he is not available. As she puts down the phone, she turns to find Ikuko opening up the red bag. Screaming, Yoshimi grabs the bag and immediately has a vision of the red bag falling into deep water. Telling Ikuko to stay in the apartment, Yoshimi grabs a flashlight, rushes out into the hallway and boards the elevator heading for the 7th floor. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Ikuko begins to clear the table, and turns on the faucet for a drink of water. As the tap water pours into the glass, a long clump of black hair suddenly flows out into the cup as a startled Ikuko drops the glass. She then turns at the sound of the bathtub faucet running at full blast.

On the roof, Yoshimi is making her way toward the water tank which continues to overflow with dirty water that flows across the roof in a stream toward the viaduct where Ikuko originally found the red bag. Once at the ladder, Yoshimi reaches out and touches the base of the tank. Doing so, she has a vision of the small girl in a yellow coat and red bag climbing up to the very top of the tank's ladder on a sunny afternoon. The small round lid at the top of the tank is wide open. Looking up, Yoshimi begins to climb up the first tier, and then onto the second tier ladder breaching the side of the tank. From above we see that she is nearing the top of the tank whose lid is now tightly shut. Near the top of the ladder she finds a cleaning schedule and realizes that the last cleaning date matches the day which the poster of Mitsuko declared her missing. This spawns another (!) vision in which she sees Mitsuko perched at the top of the tank, looking down into the gaping hole onto the water below. Her grip on the red bag slips and it drops into the water. As Mitsuko reaches into the tank to retrieve the bag, she loses her balance and falls headlong into the dark water. Yoshimi then hears a light banging from within the tank, distant at first, but then growing louder and louder until the noise becomes deafening and the tank's wall dents outward at the force of the pounding fists. This is enough to convince the screaming Yoshimi that perhaps climbing the tank in the dead of night is not a good idea.

Meanwhile in the apartment, Ikuko wrestles with the bathtub faucet trying to shut the water off. The faucet now spurts black filthy water at an incredible rate of force and the tub has slowly filled and is now overflowing onto the floor. As Ikuko gazes into the black water, her hands drop to her sides and she seems mesmerized. The water boils and bubbles as if volcanic and as Ikuko stands bent over the water looking in, two small, greenish hands suddenly emerge from the water and pull Ikuko's head below the surface. Ikuko struggles to get away, but to no avail. She seems locked within the dark water. As Yoshimi returns to the apartment from her rooftop foray, Ikuko is nowhere to be found. Hearing the sound of running water, she peers into the bathroom and sees the sopping wet Ikuko laying in a heap on the floor. Rushing to her side, the hysteric Yoshimi cradles Ikuko who is gasping and coughing from her near-drowning. As Yoshimi attempts to pick Ikuko up, the dark water in the tub again becomes tumultuous and this time groans with a deep, terrible voice. Yoshimi frantically carries Ikuko out of the apartment, down the hallway, and into the elevator. As they wait for the elevator to respond, water begins to pour in through the elevator roof, causing an electrical explosion in the elevator's panel. Stranded, dazed and terrified, Yoshimi slumps to the floor holding Ikuko and stares with wide eyes down the hallway toward their apartment door. She can see the door open ever-so-slowly, and sees a small child's hand clinging to the knob. As the apartment door opens wider, a small child emerges and stands there wet and dazed. As Yoshimi looks on in horror, she realizes that the child is Ikuko, who is now calling for her missing mother. In what has become the most terrifying moment of the film (!!!) Yoshimi slowly turns to see who she carried into the elevator with her. As she turns, from the back corner of the elevator a child whose melting, rotting face has lost all characteristics except that of a gaping mouth eerily screams "MOMMA!" and lurches toward Yoshimi, gripping her by the neck in a deadly embrace. As Ikuko runs toward the elevator and sees both mother and little monster there, Yoshimi realizes that she is unable to escape the child's grip, and demands Ikuko to not come into the elevator.

The child ghost maintains her death grip around Yoshimi's juggler as Ikuko looks on sobbing. Yoshimi looks sadly into the eyes of Ikuko and then turns to the child ghost to say "Yes, I am momma." At this, the child ghost relenquishes her death grip and relaxes in the arms of Yoshimi who now lovingly embraces her. (!?) As the crying Ikuko looks on, the doors of the elevator suddenly close and the elevator begins its ascent to the 7th floor. Ikuko bangs loudly on the doors, heart-wrenchingly screaming for her mother, and then chases the elevator up to the 7th floor. Looking through the elevator doors and seeing nothing, Ikuko slumps against the doors. As they open a great flood of dirty water comes pouring out, nearly washing her down the hall. As the camera pans back, all we are left to see is a wet, sobbing Ikuko crying for her mother on the cement hallway floor. An ominous shot of the dirty water tank, still overflowing water, fills the screen.

It is 10 years later and by coincidence the high-school aged Ikuko finds herself at the steps of her former kindergarten while waiting with some friends. The site of the kindergarten suddenly spawns long-forgotten memories such as the school itself and where she lived with her mother. All that she had recalled was that for a brief time when she was very young she had lived with her mother. No other memories of that time remain. As if drawn, the young lady Ikuko walks toward the school and then along the long road until she reaches the now decrepit and crumbling apartment complex. Entering the lobby she finds it in utter disrepair and abandonment, with electrical fixtures hanging from the ceiling and garbage strewn everywhere. She makes her way up to their former 3rd floor apartment and enters. Inside she finds the rooms well kept, the bed made, and pictures still on the bed table. Looking around as if expecting to see someone, disppointment visibly comes over her when she finds the place empty. As she turns to leave, she senses someone's presence and turns to see her mother standing in the bedroom. Yoshimi looks exactly as she did 10 years ago and is wearing the same clothes as she was that fateful evening. Ikuko is glad to see her mother and seems to have no idea that she is dead. Asking her mother if she has lived here the entire 10 years, Ikuko insists that had she known she would have visited sooner. As mother and daughter sit at the kitchen table and talk about how Ikuko has grown and where she now lives, Yoshimi becomes increasingly saddened. Ikuko asks her mother whether she recalls the evening they promised that they would be happy together, just the two of them. As Yoshimi stands and walks back into the bedroom, Ikuko asks whether it would be alright for her to live here with Yoshimi and suggests she call her father to inform him. As these words come out of Ikuko's mouth, she hears the dripping of water, a sound which seems to send a chill up her spine. At the sound, Yoshimi looks mournfully into Ikuko's face, apologizes and insists that it is not possible for them to be together. Sensing someone behind her, Ikuko slowly turns. From our and Yoshimi's vantage we see a small grayish girl standing against the back wall, but as Ikuko turns quickly to face the wall, she sees nothing there. When she turns back to the bed, her mother is gone and the room is empty. Ikuko calls out for her mother in a voice which reminds us of the small girl on the hallway floor.

As Ikuko slowly walks back down the road from the apartment complex, a sadness swells. In the background we see the looming, run-down building which we now realize is haunted by two trapped spirits, one trapped through a terrifying lonely death, and the other out of the desire to protect her living daughter from a clutches of a tormented ghost. The movie ends with Ikuko stating that she now realizes her mother has been protecting her all these years.

commentary

This movie is genuinely creepy and accomplishes this in a very "low-budget" manner. I watched this a second time with a friend of mine who insisted I give her warning before the scariest moments (so she could close her eyes and spare herself the ensuing nightmares similar to those produced by Ringu). I promised to do so (grinning evilly), and then realized that such a scene occurs only once within the entire film and lasts all but two seconds. This hadn't occurred to me during my first viewing in which everything in the tale, from red bunny bag to water drips seemed ready to burst with some terrifying revelation. It is truly amazing the amount of tension Nakata is able to squeeze out of his film without recourse to special effects or blood and guts.

The film seems to have some interesting undercurrents which I couldn't help but notice. The first has to do with the role of lawyers. To date, the use of lawyers for personal litigation is relatively rare in Japan. The prestigious Tokyo University has not until now considered offering law degrees. Their recent (2003) plans to start a Law School aimed at cranking out droves of lawyers is seen as a sign of the changing times in Japanese society. At several points in this story, Nakata seems intent on emphasizing the advantage or power which comes through having a lawyer on your side. For a person in the situation of Yoshimi, a single mother going through some rough times (caused by either the living or undead), the kind-hearted lawyer emerges as a savior figure. Under his knowledgable command, Yoshimi is given encouragement to press onward and many of her daily problems are resolved, such as the intolerable condition of her apartment and slothful management's unwillingness to act. Even the husband comes to the later divorce hearings armed with a powerful attorney, smirking at the inevitable defeat of Yoshimi's pleas for custody.

A second and much more prevalent theme is the Japanese social expectation that the mother alone is the crucial, primary caregiver for the child, and should the mother fail to fulfil this obligation, all hell will break loose. This theme is immediately evident in Yoshimi's childhood problems stemming from a mother too wrapped up in apparently no good to even pick up her child from school. From the teacher's attitude toward the mother on the phone, we are assured that the cause for the mother's inability to come to school is less than noble. The resulting dysfunction sets Yoshimi up for later problems of all sorts ranging from a general anxiety regarding her own ability as a mother (and frequent flashbacks whenever she looks out a window) to her final propensity to lovingly embrace a wet and oozing ghost in a seeming attempt to prove her maternal ability. Mitsuko is the film's second victim of a distracted mother. We know Mitsuko lived with her mother by the names on the apartment door, but every vision Yoshimi has of Mitsuko reveals a neglected girl whose lack of supervision eventually leads to the catastrophic accident setting the stage for this story. Within two years of Mitsuko's disappearance the mother has mysteriously vanished, though it would seem not at the hand of ghostly Mitsuko who is still searching for a mother figure when she attaches herself (literally) to Yoshimi. And then there is little Ikuko who is similarly left waiting at school while her mother is off seeking employment and independence, though undoubtedly for reasons having to do with Yoshimi's love for Ikuko. Also apparently stemming from her love of Ikuko is Yoshimi's suprising decision to reside eternally with the little ghost rather than spend her remaining years with Ikuko. I suspect that the implicit reasoning suggests that Yoshimi had no choice in this matter and that she understood that little Mitsuko had her sites set on capturing either Yoshimi or Ikuko (in a first come, first serve kinda way). This was also the take my Japanese friend had of the ending. And so perhaps we have to admit extenuating circumstances when it comes to Yoshimi's abandonment of Ikuko, but the thematic similarities to the other mother figures are close enough to make me wonder.

Finally, rumor has it that there is an American remake in the mix. No doubt the American version will require recourse to special effects and some gruesome ghoulies. It will also be interesting to see whether they make lawyers the good guys and blame distracted mothers for the spiritual illness setting the stage for the story.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
After seeing several of his films, I am about ready to give anything by Nakata Hideo four skulls. This film clearly demonstrates Nakata's Hitchcock-like ability to create high tension and terror solely through psychological manipulation of the viewer. Apart from the melting face of our eternally sopping wet antagonist, there is absolutely no violence or gore in this film. You will witness, however, the perpetual abuse of a small red bunny bag which when not being tossed into scary water tanks, is being stuffed into garbage cans. No time for the libido when you're running for your life from the bath tub of hell! Another genuinely creepy film by Japan's leading horror director. It's amazing how scary the sound of a drip of water (or a little girl's red bunny bag!) can become given the right story-teller!

1 Comments


This film is by far the most accomplished japanese horror movie, working rigorously on the atmosphere and pulling the best performance from the leading actress. I really enjoyed watching this film, not only because the scares and tension, but because of the fable of the rol of motherhood and what society expects from it.
By the way, i must say this is a terrific website. Thanks for the reviews.

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