Versus  (2000)
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Taku Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki,
Kenji Matsuda, Takehiro Katayama

There are 666 portals to the other side. The 444th one is the Forest of Resurrection. A lone samurai is fighting a horde sword wielding zombies. With a few swishes of his sword they are all dead (again), then he meets a more powerful foe and our lone samurai meets his maker. Fast forward to the present and two escaped convicts on the run meet up with a motley crew of yakuza types. Before long the bullets start flying, the dead start rising and everyone has to kill, kill, kill.

This movie is a prime example of style over substance; it makes no false claims to say anything meaningful, it just goes for an all out sensory shockwave. It has no shame; it wears its badge of brainlessness with pride. So why is it that genre critics deride it for succeeding in what it set out to achieve? Namely to entertain and gross out. Some critics have even had the audacity to claim that this movie is a sign of Japanese horror cinemas impending doom Get a life people. Not all horror cinema can be subtle and creepy. Christ when was the last ultra splattery movie released anyway? This is a fun movie and should be accepted as that. To criticize this movie is futile and unforgivable, and anyone who goes to every film looking for messages, moralising, meditation and meaning should really go elsewhere.

Anyway, to use an up and coming cliché, (whaddya mean it’s already one!!) this movie is like a shark, if it stopped it would die. So we have wave after wave of zombies, gunfights, sword fights and fist fights, sometimes all within the same scene too! The camera never stops moving, whipping, catapulting and careening all over the place. Add to that a techno fueled soundtrack and you have something that moves like a jet propelled cheetah on speed! Yes this is a stupid, dumb movie. But you can’t help but be sucked in by its exuberance and vitality. And to top it all off, we have gore, gore, gore. The splashiest film to crop up in a long time, it takes its cues from all the classic splatter pics of yesteryear. Yup Romero, Raimi and Jackson all take a bow for influencing this beauty. Obviously this was a film to get all these influences out of his system and to get him noticed but it still heralds a cinematic genius (ok I’m choking on my hyperbole here, sue me). Also his subsequent work (reviews coming soon) has proved that he can produce more sedate work that still pulverizes the audience.

This was originally going to be called Down To Hell 2 as it was meant to be a sequel to his short film Down To Hell (sharp as a pin is I eh?). Down To Hell starts with three guys kidnapping a fourth, taking him to the woods and telling him that he has ten minutes to run and escape before they come after him and kill him. He does, they do. But he comes back to life and proceeds to pick them off one by one. Pretty good stuff for a low budget short. With Versus he has taken the blue print for Down To Hell and turned the dial up to the max the way Raimi did with Evil Dead 2 and what Rodriguez did with El Mariachi/Desperado. If that is of interest to you then you also need to check out Heat After Dark, another short by Kitamura. This time its criminal types meeting up at a deserted house in the countryside and blowing each other away. Simply stunning.

There’s not really a lot else you can say about Versus. Just find a copy and watch it and get Ryuhei Kitamura’s name out there. It’s one of the coolest damn movies you’ll see in a long time. It’s the type of movie that leaves you with a huge grin on your face, a warm feeling inside and the thought that being a cult movie buff is fucking great.

Review By Martainn Russell.
© Owned Martainn Russell 25/3/2004 9:11 PM



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