My Experience of Dark Water “Honogurai mizu no soko kara”

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Last Friday I was invited to go and experience my friends’ new home theatre room. Armed with a six-pack of James Boags, an armful of Thai food and my bright yellow fox onesie, I was ready for a long night of thrilling theatre. 
Descending the stairs to their once creepy basement, now beautifully carpeted theatre room, the group was presented with our choice of films for the evening.
Amongst our selection was; ‘Hansel and Gretel and the 420 witch’, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘Dark Water’.
Being aware of the potential for Japanese horror to mentally scar us, we opted to watch Dark Water first and then sooth ourselves with the other two movies afterwards.

Settling down into the dark theatre room, I began to devour a healthy serving of fried rice with chicken & cashews as my friend proceeded to put the movie onto the big screen. Beginning to feel the flow of alcohol, we joked and carried on throughout the beginning of the film, trying to keep up with the introductions of the characters and the general basis for the story

In brief, the movie follows a mother and her young daughter who have recently moved into an old apartment block after the breakup of their family. The apartment has problems with water leaking from the ceiling (Dark water), and the mother starts seeing a ghostly figure of a small girl around the apartment. As the story unfolds we began to learn that this ghost child used to live in the apartment block and had gone through a very similar situation to the real child, facing the possibility of being neglected and forgotten during her parents’ divorce.

As it turns out, this ghost child was referred to as ‘Kawaii’ throughout the movie. I assume that was her actual name, but as slightly inebriated children of the internet generation we could not stop making jokes about how cute ‘Kawaii’ was in all of the jump scares and ‘frightening’ scenes of the film. While these scenes were definitely well directed and horrifying, as a group we laughed our way through the terror, yelling at the screen and enthusiastically enjoying the film.

Interestingly our collective understanding (or Misunderstanding) of the Japanese term ‘Kawaii’ shaped our experience of the film, regardless of how insignificant its use seemed to the overall story.
As I understand it, the term ‘Kawaii’ means adorable or cute and has been attributed to a section of Japanese popular culture that embody these qualities. In the context of this film, it seemed odd to name the ghostly apparition that was depicted as threatening and horrifying, after a term that was used to describe things that were cute and innocent.
Looking back at the ending of the film and the motivations given for the ghostly girl, the name Kawaii seems slightly more apt to the character and was probably a conscious decision by the film makers.

-Nathan Smith

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3 comments

  1. Hey Nathan! Great Post! (I’m playing catch-ups on my commenting, don’t be alarmed!)

    You and I had quite different experiences on first viewing Dark Water. A few year ago I realised that many of my favourite horror flicks were American remakes of Japanese films (Ringu and the Ring are my favourites, how typical!) I love the paranormal elements of J-Horror, and first watched dark water when I was about 16, alone, in my room wight he curtains drawn (middle of the day mind you, I wasn’t THAT brave!) Needless to say, I was scared senseless, and haven’t watched the film since. I hadn’t made the connection until you mentioned that the little ghost girl is referred to as “Kawaii.” At the time I didn’t know what “Kawaii” means, but I agree with you in that it was probably a conscious decision made by the writers. I think it’s a brilliant contrast that only makes the character creepier. It reminds me a little of Lolita fashion, where gothic and Victorian-era meets cute/ doll-like silhouettes. Perhaps there is more to this cute/creepy theme that’s worth investigating further.

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  2. Hi Nathan

    Your post is so detailed and your descriptions are great! The only experience I have with Asian film is so 3D multi million-dollar blockbuster with lots of fighting a subtitles and the most rememberable thing about it was that I had a great nap for two hours. So it doesn’t surprise that a thriller turns into a comedy. So many things can be lost in translation through subtitles yet also cultural differences.
    I like how your view changed about the use of the little girls name, it shows how much detail goes into movies!

    Great blog

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  3. I completely agree, I love the details of your post, makes me almost feel like I was watching the movie too! I’ve never seen dark water but now I want to give it a watch. Japanese horror films seem to be so much more intense than western ones. The grudge and the ring were both originally Japanese turned Hollywood right? That is so strange that they called her “cute” I’ve found that though with a lot of Japanese horror they seem to portray the ghosts as misunderstood and often are product of abandonment.

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