Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura
Starring Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka
Review by Jordan
On my quest to expand my knowledge and define an educated opinion of the Japanese film industry I decided my next venture after Takashi Miike’s fantastic 13 Assassins would be Ryûhei Kitamura’s underground hit, Versus. It had been sitting in my collection of horror titles for years, but with so many enjoyable zombie movies surrounding it had always been neglected… I can confidently say I am glad that has finally been rectified.
The plot becomes increasingly hard to follow as the film progresses, with the basic premise being that there are 666 portals to the underworld on Earth, with the 444th being in the Forest of Resurrection where an escaped convict (Prisoner KSC2-303, Tak Sakaguchi) is double crossed by the Yakuza who freed him. The Yakuza members then present a hostage (The Girl, Chieko Misaka) whom Prisoner KSC2-303 rescues and flees into the forest with, and from this point on the proceedings become quite confusing as The Man (Hideo Sakaki) arrives baring supernatural powers and the desire to capture our two heroes for an unknown nefarious reason. But that’s enough of that, Versus is regarded highly in cult circles for one main reason; insane violence. Bodies are sliced, diced, shot, impaled, punctured, bruised and beaten on a rare scale, and while the almost 2 hour running time is unwarranted, this aspect of the journey is certainly not what slows it down.
Versus is an enjoyable and frenetic action/horror hybrid best suited to a Friday night in with pizzas a group of mates, and for the connoisseur it is also refreshingly original and inspired. Blending elements of Samurai, Yakuza and Zombie films Ryûhei Kitamura has crafted an anti-genre film notorious for all the right reasons, and a great starting point for anyone seeking far-out filmic pleasures. Seriously though, 119 minutes? Kitamura’s American effort The Midnight Meat Train (2008) was tense, taut and terrifically dark and I think it was that vision that endeared the Clive Barker adaption that much more to me. Of course I have no problems at all with longer running times (keeping in mind 119 is not long at all in the scheme of things), but the length of a film needs to match its intentions, and here I found it a little self-indulgent. If however this is the main flaw in a film about such absurdities, it can be forgiven.
Funny, gory, iconic and utterly unique, those chasing a Midnight Movie to watch for a change of pace after Night of the Living Dead need look no further. Chieko Misaka plays The Girl with a questionable innocence and enchants the viewer with a single glance, and as leather jacket-wearing and gun and katana wielding anti-hero Prisoner KSC2-303, Tak Sakaguchi oozes effortless cool. As I’ve stated, I found the over-arching ‘resurrection’ plot a test when I very much wanted to leave my brain at the opening, but after last night watching Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), I realize how trivial I am being.
4 one-handed cops out of 5