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Dark Water (Arrow Video) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Dark Water (Arrow Video) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: March 19th, 2024.
    Director: Hideo Nakata
    Cast: Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi, Asami Mizukawa, Fumiyo Kohinata
    Year: 2002
    Purchase From Amazon

    Dark Water – Movie Review:

    Directed in 2002 by Hideo Nakata and once again based upon on a story Koji Suzuki, the man who wrote Ring, Dark Water introduces us to a woman named Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki). She's in the midst of going through a divorce and, after leaving her husband, is in need of a cheap apartment and a job to support not only herself, but her kindergarten-aged daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno). A real estate agent named Ohta (Yu Tokui) finds her an apartment in a rundown building. It's old and it needs some work but it's big enough for the two of them and the price is right so she takes it.

    Shortly after moving in, Yoshimi notices a wet spot on the ceiling over her bed. She calls the apartment manager and he brushes her off. Time goes on, and the spot gets bigger. Meanwhile, Ikuko adjusts to her new class and becomes obsessed with a red shoulder bag that she finds in the building. As the young girl's behavior becomes increasingly odd and Yoshimi's stress levels start to rise, she starts seeing things, visions of another young girl in a yellow rain slicker... the same girl who went missing in the neighborhood two years ago and who used to live in this very apartment complex.

    Dark Water is a bit of a slow burner, but it pays off nicely with its mix of supernatural horror and believable family drama. Nakata puts character development front and center here, letting us get to know Yoshimi and Ikuko well enough that we feel for them, making what they go through in the last half of the film resonant with more impact that had they just been cookie-cutter characters. Case in point? When Yoshimi is late to pick her daughter up from school and finds her ex-husband strolling home with her. This leads into a squabble between the two adults that then comes back to haunt her during custody negotiations with their respective lawyers. It might not seem like a big deal but in these moments we see other characters question the woman's mental state and in turn do so ourselves, even though we see exactly what she sees in the apartment building.

    If the movie doesn't move at light speed, it doesn't need to. There's a lot of atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the effectiveness of the rundown building where so much of the movie takes place. This place is huge, and seemingly uninhabited by anyone but Yoshimi and Ikuko. Early in the film we see two old women and a cat in the lobby and the building manager is occasionally in the front office, but that's it - for a building this size, it's almost entirely abandoned. When Nakata starts pulling back the layers of the story some of this starts to make sense, we know why certain apartments have been left vacant, but through either neglect or some sort of more sinister effect, the place just plain looks haunted. When Dark Water's supernatural side comes to light, it's done, more often than not, with subtlety. Where in films like the Ring and Grudge series the long haired ghost girls come crawling towards the camera intensely and deliberately, here, with one or two exceptions, they spectral aspect is almost a background element, at least visually.

    Sometimes as sad as it is frightening, the movie does a fine job of both tugging at your heart strings and keeping you on the edge of your seat. The sound design is excellent, the cinematography does a great job of capturing the dire locations and the performances are all first rate. This is an atypical horror picture to be sure, but it works really well.

    Dark Water – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with Dolby Vision and HDR, looks pretty solid. Taken from a new 2023 4k restoration from Kadokawa, this looks much better than the muddy, washed out Blu-ray that Arrow released back in 2016. This is still a very grim looking movie, there isn’t a lot of color here, but that’s definitely intentional and this transfer replicates the movie’s intended color scheme accurately. Detail is pretty solid here, especially in close up shots but also markedly better in medium and long distance shots as well. There’s strong depth and texture and skin tones look good. No problems to note with any noise reduction, edge enhancement, overzealous sharpening or compression artifacts.

    The Japanese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is quite good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. If the transfer isn't perfect, the audio does at least get close. Levels are nicely balanced and there is frequent use of the surround channels to help build suspense and atmosphere. The score has good punch to it and the dialogue stays clean and clear. The subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. No complaints here - this is a nice, eerie sound mix that really helps to make some of the film's more intense moments resonate even more.

    All of the extra features on this UHD edition are carried over from the Blu-ray edition (there’s no new extra content here), starting with a few brand new interviews. The first of these features director Hideo Nakata. Entitled Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings And Water this piece runs twenty-six minutes and it is essentially Nakata, in his own words, telling us how he sort of stumbled into making horror films. He talks about coming up through the studio system, some of the horror pictures that were popular when he was younger, and how he's not actually much of a fan of the genre. He also talks about not only shooting Dark Water but also making Ring and its first sequel as well as his first horror picture, Don't Look Up, which he notes was done primarily for commercial reasons. Author Koji Suzuki is interviewed for twenty minutes in Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors. Here he speaks about his career writing some of Japan's best known modern horror stories as well as how he got into writing horror fiction in the first place. He shares some insight into his feelings on the filmed versions of his stories and also talks about some of the old Japanese folk stories that have found their way into his work over the years. Arrow have also supplied a new interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi that runs for twenty minutes and is entitled Junichiro Hayashi: Visualizing Horror. He has worked with Nakata not only on Dark Water but also on Ring and The Complex so he's able to give us plenty of insight into what it's like working with the director. He shares some thoughts on that as well as on the horror genre in general but also talks about what he tries to bring to a production in terms of camerawork and lighting.

    A few archival pieces are included on the disc as well, starting with an interview with actress Asami Mizukawa in which she talks for five minutes about playing the teenaged version of Ikuko who is featured in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Hitomi Kuroki shows up for seven minutes to talk about her work playing Matsubara in the film, and composer Shikao Suga is featured in a three minute spot that focuses on the song written for the film's ending. Also carried over here is an archival making of documentary that features some footage shot on set during the shoot as well as some input from the cast and crew.

    The disc also includes a teaser, a theatrical trailer, a few TV spots, animated menus and chapter selection.

    As Arrow has sent only a test disc for review, we can’t comment on packaging, inserts or liner notes as they have not been supplied to us. Should this change, we’ll update this review accordingly.

    Dark Water - The Final Word:

    Dark Water isn't the type of picture where ghost pop up out of nowhere and bombard you with one jump scare after another. Rather, it's a pensive picture, one that hinges on strong character development and impressive acting rather than countless loud stings and an overload of effects - though it does build in intensity quite a lot in the last twenty minutes. Arrow's UHD release doesn’t add anything new to the supplemental package or the audio presentation but it does improve transfer a fair bit.



    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized screen caps from the older Dark Water Blu-ray (which are used only to illustrate the movie, not the transfer quality of this UHD release).

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