Layered creepiness

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
Dark Water – Koji Suzuki
Fiction, Horror; ISBN 10932234-10-1; Vertical, New York: 2004 (originally published in Japan as Honogurai mizu no soko kara, Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo: 1996).

Water as the harbinger of both life and death – that is the most obvious theme of this anthology of horror stories. In “Floating Water” (of which the movie Dark Water is based) a mother and daughter were beset by a specter of a lonely drowned little girl; “Solitary Isle” tells of a creature lurking in a seemingly pristine island; “The Hold” is a chilling tale of revenge served by a dead wife to her fisherman husband; “Dream Cruise” is a tale of a yacht crew being held hostage by a ghost; “Adrift” is a mind-bending story of a ghost ship; “Watercolors” is about the strange happenings in the toilet of an abandoned discotheque; “Forest under the Sea” is about an explorer that had discovered a mysterious cave that flows beside and under a river; and finally, the “Prologue” and “Epilogue” is cumulatively a story that ties in with the aftermath of what happened in “Forest under the Sea”.

Beneath the apparent premise, there are more subtle ones. All of the stories tackle the familial: of the complicated (regenerative and destructive) relationship of parents to children and vise versa, of the different and similarities despite generation gaps, of what it takes to be a family or be included in one in modern Japan (revolving around the Tokyo Prefecture; this specific placing is important to the third theme of the anthology which is the moral and physical decay of the city vis a vis with the cleansing power of nature). This inter-meshing of different layers within seemingly simple stories is what made the book profoundly mesmerizing and ultimately enjoyable.

This was the book I chose for the March reading discussion, where my book club talked about Japanese literature. I’m glad that I picked this as my book, since it made me think about what makes a Japanese story or novel, well, Japanese. Horror is certainly an intriguing genre, as almost everyone I know is exposed to the Western side of the idea: from Stephen King, Anne Rice, or the more classical Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few. But it seems that the Japanese had been dealing with the unknown and the paranormal for centuries, and it shows. To accept supernatural beings as casually as meeting another person, without reaching to far-fetched logical explanations, and even to accept premonitions and gut feelings (familiar to us as paramdam and kutob) is not just Japanese but is also inherently Asian.

But to tell you the truth, Dark Water doesn't belong to the horror genre at all. The horror is in the people of the story, rather than on any supernatural being. The anthology gives the reader glimpses of the darkness inherent in the human being, and that is what ultimately gives this book its eeriness. Many horror fans would be turned off by this; it might be boring to those who are expecting the usual fare from this author (considering that many of the now-famous Japanese horror flicks – The Ring is the best example – are based on his stories, I wouldn’t be surprised at that too). Personally, it is refreshing to read something creepy without the blood, gore and all the mess. And I do hope I won't be the only one.

5 out of 5



Copyright © 2009 opinionated thoughts of a cubicle dweller All rights reserved. Theme by Laptop Geek. | Bloggerized by FalconHive.