Versus (2000)

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda

Some movies are so completely insane that you can’t help but love them. Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Versus,” influenced by such American pictures as “Highlander” and “Evil Dead,” is this kind of movie. Ryuhei Kitamura, who had originally intended to make a sequel to his short film “Down to Hell,” tweaked his idea into a genre-defying tale so bizzare that it leaves its entire cast of characters nameless, instead affixing mere descriptions. The resulting two-hour extravaganza of silliness amuses far more than it confuses.

At the film’s beginning, we are let in on a little-known secret: There are 666 portals on Earth (you can see where this is going) which… sure enough… are gateways to the other side. A secluded forest in Japan, also referred to as “The Forest of Resurrection,” is home to the 444th portal. Our first bit of action takes place in the 10th century, where we see a samurai fighting against a large group of zombie-like samurai. Successful in his conflict with the zombies, the samurai is then quickly dispatched by a mysterious figure. The samurai had backup, but his partner arrives too late to help him. Now in the present day, two escaped convicts enter the Forest of Resurrection. One of them, Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi), looks very much like the second samurai who was late to the battle 1,000 years ago. Almost immediately, the two convicts are confronted by a Yakuza gang who have taken a girl (Chieko Misaka) hostage. Glances exchanged between the Girl and Prisoner KSC2-303 would seem to indicate that at least one of them recognizes the other somehow, even if they don’t yet know why. Prisoner KSC2-303 kills one of the Yakuza after which, to everyone’s surprise and alarm, the corpse stands back up as if still alive. Everyone shoots it several times until it finally drops dead.

Confused by this latest turn of events, the main Yakuza member (Kenji Matsuda) shoots and kills Prisoner KSC2-303’s nervous partner in crime, hoping to test a theory. As suspected, the corpse stands up just as the dead Yakuza member had, and is taken out just as swiftly. In the confusion, Prisoner KSC2-303 and the Girl escape. Although one of the Yakuza catches up to them and engages in hand-to-hand with Prisoner KSC2-303, they abandon this fight when the other Yakuzas are left to deal with the recently re-animated corpses of all the people they’ve killed and buried over time in the Forest. Eventually, the number of zombies grows so large that the Yakuza call for a trio of assassins as their backup. It’s about this time that the leader of the Yakuza, referenced only as the Man (Hideo Sakaki), shows up. Just as Prisoner KSC2-303 resembles the 10th century samurai who couldn’t save his partner, the Man resembles the mysterious figure who killed him. The Man is upset with his men for losing their hostages. He kills them and two of the assassins and turns them all into his undead minions.

Doing the job the Yakuzas were supposed to do, the Man tracks down the hostages. When he does, he tells an inquisitive KSC2-303 that the three of them (The Man, The Girl, KSC2-303) are all reincarnated souls. The Man is trying to complete a centuries-long quest whereby he intends to open the portal and gain power in the process. To do this, the Man believes he needs to sacrifice the Girl, KSC2-303 tries to stand in his way and is killed. The Girl uses her blood to restore KSC2-303 to life and giving him a second chance against the Man, but not before the experience gives him a vision of the past. His 10th century self killed the Girl rather than allow the Man to use her to obtain the power he desires to this day. He avoids having to make this sacrifice by virtue of her having used her powers of resurrection on him. It’s now KSC2-303 whose blood the Man needs, but KSC2-303 is able to defeat his enemy this time. An epilogue, set 99 years in the future, shows the two enemies, newly resurrected, once again squaring off. The setting is one of post-apocalypse, shockingly brought about not by the Man, but by KSC2-303.

As I’ve indicated, the plot of this movie is beyond silly, but never in the many times that I’ve watched “Versus” have I ever been bothered by that. I don’t even care about the fact that we never learn anyone’s real name. I like the comical, over-the-top approach to the violence, and the equally over-the-top performances from some of the supporting cast. Favorites include Kenji Matsuda, who looks like an Asian Benicio Del Toro and displays manic behavior on par with Nicolas Cage at his most unhinged, Minoru Matsumoto as the accident-prone Yakuza member, and Yukihito Tanikado as one of the two cops giving chase to KSC2-303 from the prison to the forest. Tanikado’s cop character is fond of exaggerating everything about himself, most notably bragging about being “500 times stronger than Mike Tyson!”

In my review of “Midnight Meat Train,” also directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, I indicated that the antidote to that experience was this movie, and that is a fact. It’s also a great movie to watch with a group of friends. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend a dubbed version of a film over the original language w/ subtitles, but “Versus” is the exception. The experience is mostly the same either way, but the English dubbing makes the funny moments that much funnier. If you’ve never heard of “Versus” before now (I hadn’t before my first viewing) and you like kitchen sink-type action comedies, seek this one out immediately.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Well. this does sound pretty nutty, but if it is as funny as you say, I may give it a chance!

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