Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ryuhei Kitamura|
|Produced by||Hideo Nishimura|
|Written by||Ryuhei Kitamura
|Music by||Nobuhiko Morino|
|Editing by||Shuichi Kakesu|
|Distributed by||Tokyo Shock (US)|
|Running time||120 min.|
|Budget||$10,000  (initial budget)|
Versus (VERSUS -ヴァーサス- Vāsasu ) is a 2000 Japanese independent zombie action film co-written, produced, and directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Originally intended as a sequel to Kitamura's Down To Hell, the script surpassed expectations and ultimately evolved into a different film. Though the film was not released theatrically worldwide (except in France), Versus managed to gain a cult following after its DVD release. In 2004, an extended version called Ultimate Versus was released which included 10 minutes of newly filmed scenes, additional music, CGI, and a few editing tweaks.
Versus combines elements of multiple genres such as gunplay, martial arts action, chanbara sword fighting, zombie horror, and comedy. Kitamura believed Versus could have been his first and last film ever and chose to risk everything by adding film elements that influenced him.
Talk of an American remake began to circulate in 2008 following the release of Kitamura's Hollywood directing debut, The Midnight Meat Train. However, no news of the remake has emerged since 2008.
There are 666 portals on Earth that connect this world to the other side which are concealed from human beings. However, there are some who are aware of their existence and are willing to open the gates to obtain the power of darkness. Somewhere in Japan exists the 444th portal known as The Forest of Resurrection.
In 10th century Japan, a lone samurai fends off a horde of zombie-like samurai creatures. Though successfully vanquishing the zombies, the samurai is confronted by a mysterious samurai and his league of warriors. In an attempt to take out the mysterious samurai, the lone samurai charges full scale but is easily killed and defeated. However, before dying, the lone samurai spots an ally behind him, arriving too late to save him.
In present day Japan, two prisoners escape through a forest and meet up with a gang of Yakuzas. When Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi) sees a girl (Chieko Misaka) that the gang kidnapped, he immediately becomes suspicious of what they plan to do with her. After a heated argument, Prisoner KSC2-303 kills one of the Yakuza members who immediately comes back to life as a zombie. The zombies are killed and Prisoner KSC2-303 escapes back into the forest with The Girl. The Yakuza decide to disobey their orders to wait for their leader and pursue Prisoner KSC2-303 and The Girl.
Prisoner KSC2-303 and The Girl come across a man crucified to a tree. Prisoner KSC2-303 steals the dead man's clothes and is confronted by one of the Yakuza. They engage in hand to hand combat while the other Yakuza begin facing problems of their own. The corpses of all the men they have killed and buried in the forest come back to life and attack them. Prisoner KSC2-303 and the other Yakuza abandon their fight to battle the zombies.
With the horde of zombies growing, the Yakuza call upon three assassins to aid them in their mission. The Yakuza leader, The Man (Hideo Sakaki), finally arrives and confronts them, angry that they lost Prisoner KSC2-303 and The Girl. The Yakuza and Assassins take the upper hand and kill him first. But The Man easily jumps back to his feet and turns the Assassins and Yakuza into his own minions. Two of the Assassins escape and find Prisoner KSC2-303. One is defeated by The Girl with a log, and the other is confronted by The Man and killed.
Prisoner KSC2-303 attempts to force The Girl to tell him what is going on, believing she's been hiding secrets from him the whole time. Before explaining thoroughly, The Man finds Prisoner KSC2-303 and The Girl. The Man begins explaining to Prisoner KSC2-303 that they are reincarnations of past lives. The Man plans to use The Girl as a sacrifice to open the portal hidden in The Forest of Resurrection to obtain the power of darkness. Unable to accept his explanations, Prisoner KSC2-303 attempts to kill The Man but is killed himself instead.
The Girl manages to reach Prisoner KSC2-303's body and feeds him a part of her blood before being taken by The Man's minions. During his unconscious state, Prisoner KSC2-303 experiences a flashback of his past life in the 10th century; he is the ally that was too late to save the lone samurai in the opening scene of the movie. He and The Girl (who is revealed to be a princess) are confronted by the mysterious samurai (who turns out to be The Man) and his gang. Outnumbered and facing long odds, Pre-Prisoner KSC2-303 reluctantly kills The Girl to stop The Man from obtaining the power of darkness. Enraged, The Man viciously kills Pre-Prisoner KSC2-303. Prisoner KSC2-303 is awakened in the present with the truth fully revealed to him.
The following morning, Prisoner KSC2-303 confronts The Man and his minions for a final showdown. Prisoner KSC2-303 takes on the minions first and wins, leaving only The Man left. Prisoner KSC2-303 decapitates The Man and rescues The Girl and both make their escape from The Forest of Resurrection.
99 years later, Earth lays in ruin. The reincarnation of The Man travels through the remains of a city, and eventually confronts Prisoner KSC2-303 and the reincarnated versions of The Man's gang (who now work for KSC2-303). The Girl, held against her will, tells the The Man that she should have been on his side 99 years earlier. With nothing left to destroy in this world, Prisoner KSC2-303 asks The Man to take him to the Other Side. The Man and Prisoner KSC2-303 charge at each other and engage in battle one more time.
- Tak Sakaguchi as Prisoner KSC2-303
- Hideo Sakaki as The Man
- Chieko Misaka as The Girl
- Kenji Matsuda as Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife
- Yuichiro Arai as Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver
- Minoru Matsumoto as Crazy yakuza with amulet
- Kazuhito Ohba as Yakuza with glasses
- Takehiro Katayama as Red-haired assassin
- Ayumi Yoshihara as Long-haired female assassin
- Shōichirō Masumoto as One-handed cop
- Toshiro Kamiaka as Samurai warrior
- Yukihito Tanikado as Cop with Barrett
- Hoshimi Asai as Short-haired female assassin
- Ryosuke Watabe as Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat
- Motonari Komiya as Other prisoner
According to Kitamura in an interview with Midnight Eye, it took two years to film Versus.
Following the success of Ryuhei Kitamura's acclaimed independent film, Down To Hell, interests in a sequel began to circulate. A script titled The Return: Down 2 Hell was subsequently written and development for the film began. However, the script surpassed the staff's expectations and The Return: Down 2 Hell eventually turned into Versus. A rewrite was impossible, though, due to timing conflicts and the script for The Return: Down 2 Hell was instead used for Versus.
According to Kitamura, he raised the money to independently produce Versus by borrowing money from friends and family after Producers refused to produce an action film with him because, to them, it was impossible to achieve due to the lack of time and money.
Tak Sakaguchi was hired for the lead after director Kitamura saw a gag video from the film's casting director & co-writer Yudai Yamaguchi which featured Sakaguchi. Kitamura commented his main reason for hiring Sakaguchi was because..."he had a beautiful smile". Sakaguchi however, claims he met Kitamura during a street fight which Sakaguchi was involved in. Kitamura offered him a role in his film after asking him if he'd rather fight in the streets or fight in his films.
According to director Kitamura, the film was originally going to end with Prisoner KSC2-303 and The Girl riding down the tunnel. However, Kitamura found that ending unsuitable. Co-writer Yamaguchi suggested to Kitamura an ending where the roles of the protagonist and antagonist are switched. Kitamura liked the idea and Yamaguchi's recommended ending made it to the final cut of the film.
Despite this, there have been several interpretations of the ending. Some fans have suggested that the ending revealed that Prisoner KSC2-303 was actually the villain the whole time. This is apparent when The Girl tells The Man directly "I should have been on your side". Others suggest that Prisoner KSC2-303 was just simply reincarnated as the villain this time and The Man in the opposite role. Kitamura has not given an explanation for the ending and has left its outcome for fans to decide for themselves.
The film didn't receive the title Versus until the end of shooting. During production, the film was referred to as The Return: Down 2 Hell, despite the fact that the film wasn't going to be released under that title. In fact, a friend of Kitamura's (who would end up working with the director as a second unit director for Godzilla: Final Wars) suggested the title Versus to reference the struggles Kitamura suffered through while trying to launch his career.
"I didn't actually have the title Versus until the very end of shooting. We were still using 'Return to Hell: Down to Hell 2' as a title. Of course it wasn't Down to Hell 2 at all anymore, but I couldn't come up with a good title. Then my best friend - he went to Australia with me when I was 17 and he is now the second unit director on Godzilla, shooting the overseas sequences - he was shooting the making of Versus at the time and I told him I couldn't come up with a good title. He told me, "All your life you've been fighting, and this movie is all you, so you should call it Versus." He is the one that came up with that excellent title". - Ryuhei Kitamura, interview with Midnight Eye.
Inspiration and Style
In the film's DVD/Blu-ray audio commentary, Kitamura has stated that Versus pays homage to such films as The Evil Dead and Highlander, upon which the film has been compared to with by some critics.
"The inspiration for Versus came from the films of the 1980s, Sam Raimi movies, John Carpenter movies, George Miller movies. Everything I like: zombies, gun fighting, kung fu fighting, sword fighting. I wanted to do car action too, because I love Mad Max so much, but I didn't have enough money for it (laughs). So aside from the car action, everything is in there." - Ryuhei Kitamura, interview with Midnight Eye
Versus has also established what would become Kitamura's signature style of filmmaking, which would be seen in his later films. As seen in the film, Kitamura makes use of Bullet time photography, stylized choreographed action, flexible camera work, and a unique soundtrack combining elements of Industrial music, Electronica, Rock mixed with orchestral elements, all composed by his regular soundtrack collaborator Nobuhiko Morino.
In an interview with Madman Entertainment, Kitamura commented on his style, "It’s all me. It’s all Ryuhei Kitamura-style, and I’m not going to try to change or steer away from anything. I’m only trying to get better."
Versus gained mainly a positive reception. Rotten Tomatoes reported a 67% rating approval rating. The Rolling Stone called the film "A Japanese zombies-vs.-gangsters action-horror comedy that plays like Quentin Tarantino remaking THE EVIL DEAD while on a speed binge". Sight & Sound praised the film by commenting "With Kurosawa-style swordplay, martial arts and elaborately choreographed gun battles". Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News commented on the film "I've never seen anything like it, it's a new kind of movie." B.P. called the film "Poetic and splendid, this movie thrilled me" and MADMOVIE claimed "Hollywood made Hong Kong-style movies will never come close to his (Ryuhei Kitamura) movie."
There are three different versions of Versus, the original cut, the R-rated cut, and the Ultimate edition. Prior to being released commercially in the United States in 2004, DVD distributor Media Blasters produced an R-rated edited cut which removed the film's gore scenes. As a result, the R-rated cut is four minutes shorter than the original cut. Around that same time, The Ultimate Versus was produced and released which featured ten minutes of additional newly filmed footage as well as some additions to the film.
The Ultimate Versus
In 2004, Kitamura and most of the original cast and crew went back into the woods and filmed new scenes to further realize Kitamura’s vision of the film. Namely, to bring a fuller version of a film that was limited by budget, time and technology. Yûji Shimomura did not return as the action director. Instead, Tak Sakaguchi, Prisoner KSC2-303, took the mantle of action director and created sequences that fill out the action in the new version of the film.
Released in a 3-disc DVD set by Media Blasters, over 75% of the film now feature some sort of reworking, be it color correction, new music, added action sequences, or full scene replacement. The result is a fuller story and character development, with added effects such as more blood in certain scenes, sparks during swordfights, and so on.
In 2008, around the release of his American directorial debut Midnight Meat Train, Ryuhei Kitamura began mentioning a possible American remake of Versus. Kitamura managed to write a full script for the American version and has stated that "The US Versus will be insane!" On an audio commentary for the film, Kitamura has said that if a sequel would ever be made, it would pick up to where the first film ended, taking place 99 years into the future.
In a 2010 interview, Kitamura commented on the remake "This year  will be tenth anniversary year of Versus so I’m thinking of doing something special. The original film means a lot to me and has huge fans all over the world, so I can’t do anything easy or cheap – I can’t guarantee anything in the long run, it’s a definite that I’ll do the new Versus in the future for sure."
In 2013, while promoting his new film No One Lives, Kitamura announced that he's planning on bringing back Tak Sakaguchi for a sequel, stating "The lead actor (Sakaguchi Tak) is retired, but I'll get him to make a comeback. He'll do it if I do it". He noted that the sequel will be released in 2014.
- "Exclusive: Kitamura Revisits Versus for America!".
- "Kitamura Says He's Bringing Sakaguchi Back For VERSUS Sequel In 2014". TwitchFilm. 2013-04-29.
- "Japanese Film "Versus" To Get a Sequel". Japanverse. 2013-05-01.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Versus|
- Official Film Website - In Japanese
- Versus at the Internet Movie Database
- VERSUS at Rotten Tomatoes
- VERSUS at allmovie
- "ＶＥＲＳＵＳ" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-19.