Dark Water by Koji Suzuki

A collection of short stories, the title story of which has been made into a motion picture in Japan by Hideo Nakata, the same director who so successfully brought Suzuki's RING to the big screen. And, like RING, it is being made into an American movie, too. Nakata's movie was pretty good. I expect the American movie to be mediocre, but I hope to be surprised. Anyway no matter how bad the upcoming movie turns out to be, I can't imagine it will be as poor as this collection of obvious and clumsy short stories all taking place in or around water.

In the prologue, we have a young girl going to stay with her aunt for Spring Break. Over the seven days they have together, she agrees to go for a long walk along the coast with her aunt every morning, and in turn, her aunt promises to tell her a spooky story every day and at the end, give her a treasure. Seven short stories follow, and the reader can't help but assume these are the stories the aunt tells the little girl, though they are hardly appropriate for such a purpose. Maybe auntie is just really, really, weird.

The opening story is DARK WATER, adapted, now multiple times, for the big screen. But whereas Nakata's rendering of the story gives the single mother who is the protagonist of the story a complex background and confused, sometimes irresponsible behavior toward her child that eventually feeds into and connects with the lost child central to the story, in Suzuki's original she is no more than a cipher and the story focuses on a Hello Kitty bag that keeps reappearing on the roof whenever they go up there. While this element appears in the movie as well, it is part of a larger and more complex narrative. Here, it is practically the only supernatural element. The conclusion is spelled out in a much more obvious manner here as well.

And in fact, this is the problem for most of the book -- everything is spelled out, made perfectly clear, and the reader is simply left flipping pages waiting for the obvious foreshadowing to come to fruition. I keep using the word "obvious." I can't help it. Look at another story in the collection, "The Hold." It opens with a father beating his son in a blind rage and in public because of a small, unimportant slight. Then we learn they are out wandering around town because his wife wasn't home that morning and he couldn't remember where she went. But when he catches sight of his boat,

He halted. He felt like his heart was in his mouth and he didn't know why. His pulse began to race...As soon as he spotted his own boat, he felt his chest constrict...What could be bothering him? His forgetfulness had been pronouned of late. He sometimes couldn't recall events from the day before.

Gee, I wonder what is in "The Hold," and how she got there? Needless to say, the answers are tiresomely predictable. "Solitary Isle," "Adrift," and "Dream Cruise" are also boring in the same way, though at least "Dream Cruise" does have a bit more character development. Of the two remaining stories, "Watercolors" is just a gag. Only "Forest Under the Sea," the last story of the collection, sustained my interest to the end. It is still far from a masterpiece.

Koji Suzuki's writing style is blunt and simplistic, and his characters typically lack depth and complexity. He was able to use his plain and clear style to his advantage in the RING and Spiral, because every time someone clearly and lucidly explained something, another layer of complexity was suddenly revealed, and the mystery deepened. But in DARK WATER, the stories stay on the surface, skipping like a stone.

Loop is available at amazon.com

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 21, 2005.

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