Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, Versus was released in 2000 to a relatively indifferent audience. The film defies being branded in a specific genre since it covers several…it’s a gangster/kung-fu/samurai/zombie hybrid and a rare treat for those who have seen it.
The premise goes something like this…there’s a forest where dead yakuza members have been buried. However, this forest is the 444th portal to the “other side” and is the place for reincarnation. Hence, you’ve got these yakuza coming back to life. Toss in some mystical power-up girl, an evil wizard, and a prison escapee and you’ve got Versus.
Got that? Neither did I but the non-stop action more than made up for that. I mean non-stop…bullets, blades, kung-fu, and zombie slaying for two hours. Plus, the special effects are kept to a minimum…no CGI wizardry here, just plain old fun filmmaking.
The movie ended up being shown around the world at various film festivals, with the most recent being at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema. Word started spreading about the amazing hodgepodge of styles in the film and it started to get more and more attention around the world.
Amazingly, for a two year old film, it was only released on DVD in April of 2002 and only in Japan (KSS Films). You’ll probably find a copy of it floating around on ebay (like I did) but it’s very expensive and very hard to find. Beware the all-region version – it’s a bootleg and not of the best quality. The official one is a Region 2 DVD and you’re SOL if you don’t have a player that will override region locks. Rumour has it that it’ll be released in North America by Miramax but that’s still a rumour.
By the way, you may want to try to watch this film in its original state if it’s true that Miramax has the North American rights. With their history in handling Asian films, they’ll probably butcher the film with nonsensical edits.
Update: Good news! Versus will make its way to North American shores in 3 different packages. The first will be a single-disc R-rated cut. The second will be a single-disc Original Cut. The third will be a two-disc set which includes the Original Cut along with a second disc of extras. All of them should be out in July, 2003.
Oh, but there's more! In recent interviews, Kitamura has hinted that he has plans to make another cut of the film with updated special effects and added scenes...yes, much like George Lucas and the original Star Wars trilogy. Plus, there are plans for a big-budget sequel. Unfortunately, to me, it all adds up to a big world of suck.
A Ryuhei Kitamura Film
Music: Nobuhiki Morino
Cinematography: Takumi Furuya
Film Editing: Shuichi Kakesu
Sound Editing: Kenji Shibazaki
Released by KSS Films