top of page
  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Dark Water (2002) 4K UHD Review




Arrow Video

4K UHD Release: March 19, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 101:08

Director: Hideo Nakata


Yoshimi is a single mother, struggling to win sole custody of her only child, Ikuko. When they move into a new home within a dilapidated and long-forgotten apartment complex, Yoshimi begins to experience startling visions and unexplainable sounds, calling her mental wellbeing into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko, but perhaps their lives as well. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)




Though a centuries-long tradition in their country of origin and the recipient of international acclaim since the days of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), Japanese ghost stories (kaidan) rarely found their way onto mainstream, worldwide stages; that is, until Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, based on the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki*, shifted the paradigm in 1998. It is, without a doubt, one of the vital watershed films of horror movie history. And, like all era-defining works, it garnered imitation, spawning back-to-back fads of Ringu-like films in Japan and other parts of Asia (largely Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, but also China and Indonesia) and remakes of those films in Hollywood. Formulaic to a fault, these mostly low-budget, quickly made J-horror films peaked just as DVD video was growing in popularity, flooding the market with sometimes interchangeable stories of people – often women, usually young – desperately trying to solve a sinister mystery before they’re murdered by vengeful spirits.


Nakata followed up Ringu with a direct sequel in 1999, adapted the Osamu Tezuka manga romance Sleeping Bride (Japanese: Garasu no Nō) and Shōgo Utano's novel Sarawaretai Onna (under the title Chaos), both in 2000, then returned to the Suzuki well (rimshot) for Dark Water in 2002. Dark Water was definitely an attempt to expand upon the financial and creative successes of Ringu and, besides author and director, the two also share visual, thematic, and narrative threads, marking them as peak entries in a subgenre known as Dead Wet Girls – a term coined by David Kalat, author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond (Vertical, Inc., 2007). The logic is sound: Ringu’s malevolent, black-haired spirit, Sadako, emerges damp from a well, frightening the living hell out of readers and movie audiences, therefore, flooding an entire story/film with similarly murky water and black mold might inspire even greater scares.



Dark Water is arguably a more mature film than Ringu. It expands upon the idea of a single mother heroine, not as a horror-themed divorce parable, but a straightforward drama about the stigmas and dehumanizing hardships of single parenthood and mothers in the workplace. Also beneath the scares are serious themes of domestic violence and gender discrimination. The adherence to its predecessor’s structure and themes do make it predictable, especially to any viewer already familiar with the clichés of the Japanese horror of the era. It also lacks Ringu’s visceral crackle, but Nakata uses this somber familiarity to his advantage, sneaking up on his audience by peeling back against painful intimacy with increasing nightmare logic. It is, perhaps, overly deliberate in its pacing, but, when it works, it leaves the audience on edge, waiting for the achingly melancholic calm to be broken by another sinister omen.


Dark Water was released in Japan the same year Gore Verbinski’s Ringu remake (The Ring, 2002) grossed almost $250 million at the international box office. It was inevitable that it, too, would be remade. Sure enough, Walter Salles’ Dark Water, starring Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, and Tim Roth hit US theaters in July of 2005. Its box office returns were modest and critics shrugged, heralding the beginning of the end for the short-lived Hollywood J-Horror remake boom. The absolutely terrible Pulse (2006) and One Missed Call (2008) remakes were the real nails in the coffin and the fad faded.



Bibliography:

  • Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema by Jay McRoy (Rodopi, 2007)

  • Introduction to Japanese Horror Film by Colette Balmain (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)


* Ringu was actually the second attempt at adapting Suzuki’s novel, following Chisui Takigawa’s made-for-TV Ring, aka: Ring: Kanzenban in 1995.



Video

J-horror and Japanese films in general from the early days of DVD have always looked problematic in HD. Some of this pertains to how these films were shot, some to how they were preserved. Whatever the cause, Arrow’s original 2016 Blu-ray fit the trend. When he wrote his review, my former DVDActive colleague, Chris Gould, suspected that the transfer Kadokawa Pictures had supplied Arrow with was mastered at PC levels (0-255) rather than video levels (16-235), which was another common problem for digital home video releases from Japan. It was more vibrant than Arrow’s grainy, desaturated Pulse (Japanese: Kairo, 2001) Blu-ray, but it was difficult to judge how much of the look was intentional and how much was a quality issue.


That brings us to the 4K UHD disc, which features a new 2023 4K digital restoration produced by Kadokawa with restoration by Imagica Entertainment. Even if it had been recycled from the 2016 master, I think that an HDR boost alone could have fixed the Blu-ray’s biggest issue, that being weak levels. Fortunately, the upgrade is bigger than just that, as the extra detail and tidier edges really help differentiate the purposefully gritty, grainy imagery (don’t expect utter cleanliness, it’s still pretty hazy at times). The plain, dark interiors aren’t particularly impressive, which I assume is the point – to juxtapose the mundane with the fantastically frightening – but the more stylized moments look great, including cleaner diffusion and chromatic aberration effects, and more complex element layering. Those sickly, sludgy brownish-yellowish-greenish color combinations really pop as well. Unfortunately, I’m unable to strip screencaps from UHDs, so I can’t directly compare this 2160p transfer to the 1080p disc. The caps on this page are from the Blu-ray and only really representative of basic texture and color similarities between the discs.



Audio

Dark Water is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and its original 5.1 sound. This is an extremely immersive mix without being particularly aggressive. Aside from the occasionally impactful tones of Kenji Kawai & Shikao Suga’s eerie score, the bulk of the track is devoted to the contrasts between utter silence and the louder threat of water in the form of rain, rushing rivers, dripping droplets, supernatural bubble jets, and overflowing bathtubs. There aren’t a lot of swirling directional effects, but plenty of stereo/surround involvement and plenty of LFE enhancement.



Extras

  • Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings, and Water (26:03, HD) – The director discusses his early career, specifically the making-of Don’t Look Up (Japanese: Joyû-rei, 1995), Ringu, and Dark Water, as well as his influences and opinion of the horror genre.

  • Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors (20:20, HD) – The author talks about his upbringing, his process, and becoming Japan’s pre-eminent horror novelist.

  • Junichiro Hayashi: Visualizing Horror (19:16, HD) – The director of photography runs down his technique and his collaborations with Nakata.

  • Vintage making-of featurette (15:50. SD) – A behind-the-scenes EPK from 2002.

  • Archival featurettes:

  • Actress Hitomi Kuroki interview (7:59, SD)

  • Actress Asami Mizukawa audition footage/interview (4:38, SD)

  • Co-composer Shikao Suga interview (2:54, SD)

  • Trailer, teaser, and TV spots



The images on this page are taken from Arrow’s older BD – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

0 comments

Comments


bottom of page