Versus (2000)

There are 666 portals on Earth that connect this world with the ‘other side’.  At  the 444th portal, located in the mysterious Forest of Resurrection, Japan, a nameless convict, a girl, a ragtag bunch of gangsters, and a protagonist known only as ‘the man’ are unwittingly drawn together in this mysterious forest. Throw a seemingly unending army of zombies into the mix, and you’re totally set up for 2 hours of the thinnest story, yet brutally satisfying low budget violence I’ve seen for some time. I give you Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus.

Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s lazy reviewing, simply referring to these characters as a convict, or a girl right? Wrong. Not a single character in the entire film is referred to by any name. Which I think, personally, is a great touch. It skilfully manages to keep these characters at arm’s length, like an outsider looking in.

As I’ve already mentioned, the plot itself is about as thick as a sheet of Andrex’s finest quilted TP. It’s almost as though Kitamura thought to himself ‘I have this story completely nailed, but I need to pad it out by, say…another 90 minutes. I know! ZOMBIES.’ I think this is a school of thought any and every film should have.

To put a short story even shorter, Prisoner KSC2- 303 (Tak Sakaguchi) is brought to the forest of resurrection by a group of gangsters, manages to escape, with the girl (also just there, completely without explanation), and while being pursued by said gangsters, unwittingly awakens hordes of zombies. All the while, setting the scene for an epic final showdown with the enigmatic, yet effortlessly charismatic ‘the man’ (Hideo Sakaki).

Versus is what can only be described as two hours of non-stop, relentless, low budget, yet thoroughly enjoyable, violence. It somehow manages to keep it all light despite the gallons of blood and dismemberment you’re seeing. This is almost entirely brought to you by Kenji Matsuda aka ‘Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife’, who manages to completely steal the show. As the violence continues, little titbits of story are thrown in there, but they are clearly an afterthought. If anything they are simply there, sadly, to validate the final showdown.

Everyone plays their part in this film superbly, and it gives the impression that the cast members were given the smallest of briefs about their characters and given free reign to make them their own, which they all do to perfection.

The music fits the fast pace of the fight scenes, and in the very few scenes that show some emotion, the music is nothing but complementary. This is everpresent in Kitamura’s films, as showcased in Azumi and Sky High.

Versus is low budget, high-octane action that will appeal to horror, action, and Japanophiles alike. A thoroughly entertaining 2 hours that at no point takes itself too seriously, with a fantastic end sequence, and a twist that totally blindsighted me. It sadly falls short in the storytelling department, but gets away with it. This is a feast for the senses, not the heartstrings. 

Just for heaven’s sake watch the ‘R’ rated version.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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