DARK WATER (2002) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Hideo Nakata
Arrow Video USA

DARK WATER, Hideo Nakata's follow-up to the widely successful RINGU and lesser RINGU 2, resurfaces on Blu-ray/DVD combo courtesy of Arrow Video USA.

Going through a tough custody battle, Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki, 47 RONIN) must find a cheap apartment for herself and daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno, NOROI: THE CURSE) and a job. The best choice for accommodations turns out to be a rundown apartment building near Ikuko's new kindergarten. No sooner do they move in than Ikuko starts talking to an imaginary friend and Yoshimi starts catching glimpses of a little girl in the apartment above, the seeming source of spreading stain across Yoshimi's bedroom ceiling. When Ikuko falls ill and must be kept at home, things gets spookier and Yoshimi discovers that the girl she has been seeing might be a child who went missing two years before after being abandoned by her mother. Having sought psychiatric treatment after her previous job before her marriage, Yoshimi at first suspects her husband of trying to gaslight her and her erratic behavior seems to be playing in his favor. Soon, however, it becomes apparent to Yoshimi that the ghost girl wants something from her daughter.

Largely eschewing overt scares in favor of family drama, DARK WATER was not as successful as RINGU but succeeds due to the commitment of lead Kuroki and the touching mother/daughter relationship (we are worried for the mother losing custody as much as her losing her daughter to something supernatural). The omnipresent rain and the gray apartment block setting are atmospheric, and the DON'T LOOK NOW-esque appearances of the girl creepy, but it is really Kuroki's lead performance that keeps things poignant as they get more predictable. The film continues past its climax with a ten minute coda that provides some emotional closure to the traumatized survivor while still giving viewers one last minute chill. The film was remade to lesser success in 2005 by Walter Salles (ON THE ROAD) for Touchstone with Jennifer Connelly in the lead.

While DreamWorks paid a modicum of respect to the source of their RINGU remake with a concurrent DTS DVD release, A.D.V. films released DARK WATER on barebones American DVD with 5.1 Japanese and English tracks a few months before the remake. While we have not seen that edition, Tartan's UK DVD contained an immersive DTS 5.1 track but the anamorphic master fared poorly by contemporary standards with windowboxed framing of an image that was already 1.77:1 and digital sharpening running somewhat counter to the film's intended look. Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer remains true to the softish photography of bland fluorescent-lit spaces contrasted with the grittier and grimier apartment settings and enhanced textures of the stained wall and sweaty skin under the humidity of the rainy environs. The DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese 5.1 track compares well with the DVD's lossy DTS track, with the omnipresent rain outside and inside gaining an enhanced bass in the more subtle iterations of the film's score by Kenji Kawai (RINGU).

Extras are divided between three new interviews and vintage materials. In "Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings, and Water" (26:01), the director discusses his beginnings as an assistant director at Nikkatsu and how his film GHOST ACTRESS (badly remade by Fruit Chan as DON'T LOOK UP) lead to his being offered RINGU. He discusses his collaboration with screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi (SODOM THE KILLER) and the changes they imposed on Suzuki's novel, and generally spends more time discussing that film, RINGU 2 and THE RING TWO (which he directed after the Gore Verbinski remake) – as well as his subsequent American and British works – than on DARK WATER on which he collaborated with younger screenwriters Ken'ichi Suzuki (FISH STORY) and Yoshihiro Nakamura (THE BOOTH) who scripted his subsequent non-horror film LAST SCENE. In "Koji Suzuki: Family Terror" (20:19), the writer discusses how he had not intended his novel of RINGU to be a horror story but found its labeled as such because of the occult elements. He also devotes little time to DARK WATER, which was adapted from a short story he wrote as part of a collection to follow up the success of the RINGU novel. In "Junichiro Hayashi: Visualizing Terror" (19:15), the cinematographer (RINGU and PULSE) discusses how he started at Nikkatsu as an assistant director but switched over to camerawork and found himself going against the Japanese industry's division of labor of DP and lighting director. Although not a fan of horror films, he recalls being given SUSPIRIA to watch as inspiration for the film.

The vintage making-of featurette (15:48) is a behind the scenes look at the shooting of the flashback, other scenes requiring artificial rain, and a look at the immense apartment building sets. Snippets of conversation are subtitled but there are no interviews, which are included as separate archival extras. Actress Hitomi Kuroki (7:58) recalls being attracted to the film because of the script, working with Nakata, and trying to make less conventional acting choices for the way her character reacts to the odd occurrences. The interview (4:37) with actress Asami Mizuakawa (PRAY), who plays the teenage Ikuko in the extended coda, is shown auditioning, rehearsing, and then shooting some of her brief work in the film. In his interview (2:53), composer Shikao Suga (DEATH NOTE) waffles on a bit about the inspiration for the film's theme song. The disc's "Promo Materials" consist of a theatrical trailer (1:13), teaser (0:38), and TV spots (0:50). Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain and the first-pressing-only booklet containing new writing by David Kalat, author of J-HORROR: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE RING, THE GRUDGE AND BEYOND, and an examination of the American remake by writer and editor Michael Gingold. (Eric Cotenas)