A few days ago, Samuel and I finally got around to watching Dark Water (仄暗い水の底から)- Seeing as it was released a whole eight years go, I’m not sure why it took us this long, but it really was worth the wait.
Dark Water centres around a divorced mother (Hitomi Kuroki as Yoshimi Matsubara) and her daughter who move in to a rather run-down apartment building. Soon after they settle in, a mysterious damp patch appears, and water begins dripping from the ceiling. Alongside painful divorce proceeding, custody battles and job worries, a child’s red bag keeps mysteriously appearing in odd places and bringing with it memories from Yoshimi’s past. Can Yoshimi keep hold of her sanity and her daughter? Who does the red bag belong to? And what happened to the little girl who went missing several years ago?
Dark Water is another fabulous horror offering from Koji Suzuki, the acclaimed writer of Ring, so it’s no wonder that this film will also appeal to fans of the Ring franchise. It’s also no surprise therefore that there are obvious comparisons between Ring and Dark Water. Although Dark Water and Ring both examine the relationships between mother and child, it should be noted that in the original novel, the main protagonist of Ring is male, thus changing the dynamic. However, as in the screenplay for Ring the main character Reiko is female, this leads not only to more Ring/Dark Water parallels but perhaps to greater empathy between the protagonists of the films and the sources of horror – all female. Perhaps we could say that Japanese film makers are scared of women! Both Ring and Dark Water feature terrifying girls with long hair covering their faces, and this is a potent symbol of death in Japan: traditionally, hair was kept long and tied up, yet let down after death and visible at the funeral, hence the outbreak on film of freaky girls with long hair – Ju-On is another example of a female source of horror with long loose hair.
I also think it’s worth mentioning the recurrent theme of water in both films – in Dark Water we have the dripping water from the ceiling, heavy rain, a bathtub scene and the ominous water tank, and in Ring water is again the form of rain, the sea and the well under the cabin. Water is presented again and again as threat and a malevolent force much like the girls portrayed in the films – are their spirits too a force of nature like water, earth, wind and fire?
Perhaps the main sociological similarity between Dark Water and Ring is divorce – both protagonists are single mothers with a child, and whereas in Ring Reiko has been divorced for some time leading to a focus on her changing relationship with her estranged husband, Yoshimi is in the full throes of divorce negotiations thus providing the emotional backdrop to Dark Water. Although there is a general feeling that divorce in Japan is on the increase, it’s interesting to note that the divorce rate has remained steady over the past decade and the main reason cited for divorce is ‘falling out of love with partner’. In fact, divorce is nothing new in Japan, and the supposed taboo that exists around it is more hype than substance.
At the end of both films, the relationship between mother and child is marred by sacrifice; in Ring Reiko decides to show Sadako’s tape to her parents to save her son, while Yoshimi opts to stay with Mitsuko in order to save her daughter. Although the media is always quick to blame the breakdown of the traditional Confucian ie familial structure for all contemporary Japanese society’s ills, the extent to which this is actually true is more up for debate than ever before.