The Girl On the Fourth Floor: Hideo Nakata’s ‘Dark Water’

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Appearing four years after his 1998 J-Horror masterpiece Ringu, Hideo Nakata returned in 2002 with Dark Water, another story about a forlorn girl who refuses to be forgotten. More specifically, Dark Water is about “Yoshimi Matsubara” (Hitomi Kuroki) and her six-year-old daughter “Ikuko Matsubara” (Rio Kanno) who have moved into an unnamed desolate apartment building, which is spacious but poorly managed. Yoshimi and Ikuko have wound up here as a consequence of Yoshimi’s divorce from “Kunio Hamada” (Fumio Kohinata). Because Yoshimi is struggling to make ends meet and provide for her daughter to the satisfaction of the legal system settling her case, the now single mother is constantly in fear of losing her only child.

What Yoshimi realizes only slowly and much to her horror is that it is not only her ex-husband who wants to take Ikuko from her. Seemingly friendless and alone, except for an auntie, “Kayo” (Chisako Hara), who is willingly to babysit her grand-niece, Yoshimi is forced to deal with the horror that dwells in the apartment above on her own. As it turns out, both Yoshimi and another young girl, “Mitsuko Kawai” (Mirei Oguchi), were both abandoned as children, whose paths now seem to be crossing, as evident by a wilted flyer near Ikuko’s kindergarten, which pleads for help at finding Mitsuko, who was last seen on July, 19, 1999. More ominously, a leak has sprung on the apartment’s ceiling, turning from a stain to a steady drip, which remains in disrepair until the room is drenched.

As the problem with the leaky ceiling begins to grow, so too does the lives of Yoshimi, Ikuko, and Mitsuko begin to collide more intensely. Eventually, Yoshimi realizes what she has to do to protect Ikuko from harm, which entails finding a way of purging the memories of her own abandonment and Mitsuko’s. Similar to “Sadako” in Ringu, Mitsuko is a tormented ghost, wandering the places where she once lived, looking for retribution for what was done to her. As such, the source of Dark Water’s sense of horror is the primal fear of desertion that inhabits every human psyche. However, whereas for most people such fear may only manifest itself as a nightmare, in the case of Yoshimi her nightmare is becoming reality.

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