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After terrifying audiences worldwide with the blockbuster J-horror classic Ring and its sequel, director Hideo Nakata returned to the genre for Dark Water, another highly atmospheric, and critically acclaimed, tale of the supernatural which took the common theme of the “dead wet girl” to new heights of suspense and drama.

Based upon on a short story by Ring author Koji Suzuki, Dark Water follows Yoshimi, 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 well-being into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko, but perhaps their lives as well.

Beautifully shot by the same cinematographer as Ring and Pulse, and featuring an especially unnerving sound design, Dark Water successfully merges spine-tingling tension with a family’s heart-wrenching emotional struggle, creating one of the very finest and most unsettling contemporary Japanese horror films.
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


Dark Water arrives in the UK as a dual-format release, but we only received the Blu-ray copy for review. As best I can tell it’s derived from an old, DVD-era master anyway. There’s some visible scanner noise present throughout (which is quite common on Japanese features) and truth be told it’s not the most attractive presentation. The image is quite dull and lifeless, with a muted colour scheme and flat contrast that leaves a fair bit to be desired. I suspect the contrast issue to be a result of being mastered at PC levels (0-255) rather than video levels (16-235), as tends to be the case with a lot of Japanese films. Certainly, when manually compensated for with my player the image definitely looked better. Telecine wobble is noticeable, particularly during the opening scenes, and image stability is problematic throughout. There are also a number of film artefacts to contend with. Although a step up from the standard-definition release, the dated mater limits the overall level of detail in the image and there’s certainly room for improvement. The compression looks to be okay for the most part. Honestly, this isn’t a hugely impressive catalogue title from a visual standpoint, but Arrow looks to have done its best given the limitations of the available material.

Audio


A solitary DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the order of business here. Generally speaking it is well-balanced, offering up clean, intelligible dialogue throughout. The surround channels are employed to good effect for environmental foley, particularly the seemingly omnipresent rain and the 'dark water' itself. Other spot effects such as the closing of elevator doors and the various creeks and moans of the ageing apartment building are also good. The score is effectively eerie and is often supported by some surprisingly potent bass, which serves to enhance the tension. All in all this is a pleasantly spooky track; one which is responsible for much of the film’s suspense and atmosphere. Optional English subtitles are also included, and while they appear to take the usual translation liberties they are free from grammatical and spelling errors.

Extras


A surprisingly plentiful collection of bonus material is included with this release, including a number of interviews (both new and archival), a featurette and other promotional features. Unfortunately, as is often the case, we didn’t receive a retail copy so I’m unable to comment on the booklet, reversible sleeve, or the quality of the DVD.

  • Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings and Water
  • Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors
  • Junichiro Hayashi: Visualising Horror
  • ‘Making of’ Featurette
  • Hitomi Kuroki Interview
  • Asami Mizukawa Interview
  • Shikao Suga Interview
  • Trailer
  • Teaser
  • TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
  • Illustrated collector’s 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 (first pressing only)

Overall


Dark Water is an effective Japanese ghost story, although it isn’t particularly horrific (and that’s coming from a self-confessed wuss). With that said, it has its fair share of creepy moments, particularly towards the end, and is well acted and atmospheric enough to render the lack of real scares relatively inconsequential. For what it’s worth I enjoyed it, and I’m not the genre’s biggest fan. Arrow’s home video release of the film is a bit of a mixed bag though, with the solid bonus content and satisfying audio track failed by the disappointing visuals. Is it better than the DVD? Yes, most certainly, but whether it’s a sufficient improvement to warrant the asking price is highly subjective.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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