Prior to watching the Japanese version of Dark Water, I was expecting it to be similar to Ju-on. I’m glad I was wrong because I enjoyed Dark Water’s different approach to creating horror. I thought this film was the best one we watched all semester, and to my surprise, the American version was just as good. There are many interesting things about these films, but what I found most striking is how the role of the mother changes in each version. For the most part, it’s fairly similar, but there are some differences.
To start off, both mothers in each film want the best for their daughter and always make sure that they feel wanted. It is evident to viewers because both of the protagonists had their problems growing up with a cruel mother who neglected them as a child. It’s subtle in the Japanese version. However, in the American version Dahlia’s mother is alcoholic, says hurtful things to her, and it’s much more obvious that she experienced a traumatic childhood.
The second observation I noticed about the two mothers is their emotional state throughout the films. Both characters struggle with living in a crummy apartment, finding a job, and the fear of losing their daughter. However, Dahlia seems more emotionally unstable than Yoshima. For instance, during the American version of Dark Water Dahlia takes some pills to mange her stress, and wakes up a day later from a black out not remembering anything that happened. In the Japanese film, Yoshima experiences similar mental stress, but it’s not represented as much in the American version.
The third thing I noticed in each version was how isolation affected the mothers. The two films feature the same male characters, but in the Japanese version the men seem crueler and less willing to help the mother. As a result, I felt a greater sense of isolation present for Yoshima that made me see her character as more helpless about how she would take care of her daughter. In the American version, it feels like the male characters are more supportive to the mother despite being just as unkind to her. When Dahlia is having trouble, it seems like she always has someone to help her out and doesn’t feel isolated from the world like Yoshima did.
My final observation involves the ending, which I felt changed how the tone of motherhood played out in each film. To me, the Japanese version’s ending with Yoshima’s daughter returning several years later to the apartment was a more effective way to end the film. I liked that the American version had a happier ending. However, I felt it placed too much emphasis on showing how the father was replacing Dahlia as the more paternal figure in the child’s life rather than focusing on the mother’s role.