Versus -ヴァーサス (2000) – Japan
Not able to find funding by production studios but wanting a sequel to his earlier work, Down to Hell (1997), Ryûhei Kitamura received family/friend donations to move ahead with his first feature film in 1998. According to much speculation on the interwebs, the end result was changed plenty, becoming something very different from the expected sequel, a standalone project that would blend much technique and aesthetic from other film genres, most noticeably science fiction and horror. Thus the Japanese zombie gunslinger action flick intended for the uber-nerd variety of cult fellowship, Versus (2000), was released, demonstrating a very rich respect for B movie filmmaking, the kind that placed other works such as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead or George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, on the map. It’s a film for much conversation, some repulsion, and you will definitely decide sooner rather than later, first five or so minutes, which side, like it or not, you reside with. All this reviewer asks is you at least give its different plot a try on. See if it fits.
Within our world, there are 666 portals that lead to another realm, a realer, grittier version of Earth’s good and evil tale, mostly evil though, and in Japan the 444th portal exists, specifically within the Forest of Resurrection. Those who die there are brought back, but at a cost, serving evil with their prior inflictions, however gruesome, intact. Your gutted, shot-up, and stabbed state is as you left it, meaning a bullet to the brain brings you back with a bullet to the brain. You couldn’t care less though, as you’re technically checked out anyway, a meaty host for the evil necromancer-antagonist-man to use and abuse. Much added detail and major character struggles, conflicting viewpoints on good and evil, and lots of vibrant red blood bring us to a realization that they’re all to duel, plain and simple, fodder really to bring us some sense on practical effects with blood and guts, and an hour and a half of style mash ups insists we sit back and enjoy, causing some astonishment and laughter, sometimes really clichéd, but ultimately enjoyable.
The film makes for much change to the conventional horror film, if it can be called that. Zombies with the ability to shoot guns, deep bass/drum tracks accompanying wild Michael Bay inspired 360 degree circle pans, and odd grunts from characters and their quirks keep us dizzy, oddly wanting more. It’s the kind of film that becomes aware of itself early on, and your place as an audience member becomes rewarded the further you watch, the ride less predictable as the kill count rises. It’s not asking dark philosophical questions on life or death either, looking for symbolism or a preferred ideology to flaunt about. It knows its place, and I really like that. It’s like buttery popcorn with those quirky colored bottles of seasonings added. You can only really enjoy them every once in a while, but, mmm, it’s rather good when you do, zingy even.
Follow an early scene for example, one in which our two supposed leads, Prisoner KSC2-303 and another escaped convict, meet with a fleet of gangsters on a deserted road. We don’t know what to expect, much less follow, but, when a two, a one gangster and then a convict, are shot, it takes us by surprise. The gangsters and the remaining convict, Prisoner KSC2-303, temporarily share their dread in not knowing what the hell’s going on, much like us, working together to figure out the story with the forest and portals and how it all relates. That form of filmmaking, this thing, it makes for an easy entrance to the B-movie class of filmography, and if you’re uninitiated, it’s a spooky event to take part in. Later, those characters will learn enough to fight again against one another, but that uncommonness, the eccentric unbalance, however temporary, provides much to behold, shedding light on a larger creativity focused on a bizzaro kind of fiction, a plot and characters mixed and matched from other films to bandwagon potential fans.
Another scene puts Prisoner KSC2-303 in scavenger mode, as he looks for cooler clothes to dud himself up with. When he swings his long leather trenchcoat, the tails drifting in slow motion, corny guitar riffs with much wah-wah and distortion to back him up, we can’t help but smile. Does it fit? Not anymore, but it would be another movie without it. And we cannot have that here. Later, when Prisoner KSC2-303 finds sunglasses on another corpse, he puts them on. The girl he is trying to save shakes her head. No, it’s not your look, but the coat and black leather pants, those from early, those did. Yeah we say, she’s right, and we’re instantly more involved.
I do not wish to spoil any of the story for those willing to watch it, but the ending has caused much debate too, a never ending conversation for fans to salivate over. It happens so quickly and in a style very different from much of the film that it could have been added after the first primary shoot, a long two year process, but it’s exciting to have a playful quarrel over what’s what in a film’s ending. This one is really odd though. Perhaps you know more than me here, but I’m unsure of whether it’s a good or bad add-on. Regardless, it’s a deliberate choice to make fun of bloody red messes on violence and the zombie variety of movies.
Following the 1999 successes of The Matrix, Wachowskis, and Fight Club, David Fincher, its ability to keep up with style innovation is telling of Kitamura. His type of movie says let’s play, surface value first and then you can move on. It’s not to be evaluated for much theory or associated with the scholars, but it reveals so much, paying homage to greater B movie history. Roger Corman would’ve loved to produce this. Don’t over-analyze it, but do indulge in all its blood and bits, perhaps being the sprinkles to your someday zombie marathon sundae.