EXCITING NEWS: Japanese, martial-arts, cult horror classic, “VERSUS” releases on Blu-ray, December 7th in the UK and Dec. 8th in the USA. Order your copy now via Arrow Video or Amazon and read on for our full, in-depth review!
Making movies to stand the test of time is maybe the toughest filmmaking code to crack, but when in doubt, the old adage of “throw in everything and the kitchen sink” is a reliable standby.
Those words were clearly in the back of the mind of director Ryuhei Kitamura during the making of the cult classic “Versus”, an action-horror acid trip that wraps zombies, samurai, gunplay, immortals, and a literal Forest of Resurrection into two hours of gloriously wild insanity!
In his very first role, Tak Sakaguchi (Re:Born, Crazy Samurai Musashi) portrays the movie’s unnamed protagonist, Prisoner KSC2-303, with Hideo Sakaki portraying the immortal villain known only as The Man.
The rest of the cast is similarly nameless, with Chieko Misaka playing The Girl, and Kenji Matsuda, Yuichiro Arai, Minoru Matsumoto, Kazuhito Ohba portraying Yakuza enforcers, and Takehiro Katayama appearing as the red-haired assassin.
After Prisoner KSC2-303 and a fellow prisoner escape their incarceration, they expect to simply flee through a nearby forest and meet-up with a yakuza gang.
However, KSC2-303 grows uneasy upon seeing the gang holding a girl hostage, killing one of them, only for him to suddenly come back to life as a ravenous zombie. As KSC2-303 and the girl flee into the forest, the pursuing yakuza soon encounter more attacks from rising undead zombies.
As KSC2-303 tries to make sense of everything, he soon comes to realize that he and the yakuza gang’s arriving boss are actually reincarnated immortals. The forest itself is the Forest of Resurrection, which happens to be the 444th of 666 portals to Hell – with The Man intending to sacrifice The Girl in order to open the portal.
A Unique Entity Complete with Samurai, Yakuza & Zombies!
Like every movie to which the term “cult classic” is applied, “Versus” is truly a unique entity, zipping along from samurai smackdown to yakuza crime caper to zombie outbreak to reincarnated warriors, intermixing each like the jack of all trades that it is.
Whichever angle one comes into “Versus” from, it’s mind-boggling how much craziness it’s able to dish out on a budget that wouldn’t even come close to the price tag of a single episode of “The Walking Dead”.
Conflict & Madness come as Standard
The minimalist title of “Versus” and its non-descriptive trailer, which is more of a montage of money shots, also work in the movie’s favor. Going into “Versus”, the uninitiated viewer knows only two things are assured, conflict and madness.
Then, the movie kicks off with a sword duel in medieval Japan, followed by an escaped convict’s rendezvous with yakuza in a forest, with the hands of the gangster’s reanimated victims bursting from the ground not long after.
Capping it off, our unnamed hero comes to realize he’s in the center of a Chosen One’s story he never knew he was a part of, with he, his archenemy, and the girl he’s trying to protect as reincarnated souls in the midst of a forest that’s also a literal doorway to unleashing hell on Earth.
Cult Tested: 20 Years Later…Nothing Quite Comes Close
Any one of those elements could have been the focus of its own movie, but “Versus” abides by the aforementioned “kitchen sink” philosophy to the letter. In a nutshell, “Versus” continues to endure as an underground cult favorite twenty years later because, like all cult classics, there’s genuinely nothing else like it.
Tak Sakaguchi is as Talented as they Come
Aside from being the unification of disparate genres that it is, “Versus” also notably marked Tak Sakaguchi’s film debut, and talk about a future action star sticking the landing in his first rodeo!
A world removed from the stone cold assassin he’d later embody in “Re:Born” and the indomitable swordsman in “Crazy Samurai Musashi”, Tak’s portrayal of Prisoner KSC2-303 is a guy at once in over his head and on top of everything.
Tak’s Screen Presence & Martial Arts are Electrifying
For a first-time leading man, Tak’s screen presence and martial arts ability is electrifying in the movie’s copious action scenes. Possibly no one else’s first action movie has involved a fight scene against zombies alternating back and forth from kicks to gunplay, and dammit if the movie doesn’t get every bit of mileage it can out of that.
Hideo Sakai also balances the equation as his equally determined and initially far more confident adversary, profoundly respecting his enemy as a worthy opponent and potential ally.
The Action Finale is Insanity Unchained
Though the film is not exactly an amnesia-driven story per se, it’s nevertheless a rousing sight to see when the switch finally gets flipped in the head of Prisoner KSC2-303 about who and what he really is. Then it all unleashes – a finale of punching, kicking, bullets, and blades that is as magnificently satisfying as it is over-the-top.
“Versus” is so many different things wrapped into one. It’s a thoroughly insane action-horror hybrid, a man-on-the-run thriller with zombies and yakuza thrown into the mix, a tale of rediscovered destiny and immortality, and an all-round wild ride containing all of the above.
Just to top it all off, it’s also a debut for its leading man and a big break for its director that is truly like no other out there for either. “Versus”, in short, completely lives up to its ‘cult-classic’ status earned over the last twenty years – here’s to twenty more!
- “It’s fine that you don’t know me, because your soul does.” – The Man (to Prisoner KSC2-303.)
- “You talk too much.” – Prisoner KSC2-303 (during The Man’s ritual to open the portal.)
- Before getting started in movies, Tak Sakaguchi used to compete in underground fights, where he was discovered by director Ryuhei Kitamura. This led Kitamura to recruit Sakaguchi for “Versus”.
- Ryuhei Kitamura raised funds ($10,000) for the movie from friends and family.
- The title “Versus” didn’t come about until after the movie was completed. Ryuhei Kitamura has said that he couldn’t come up with a title, and a friend suggested “Versus” to reference Kitamura’s fighting through life and the fact that the movie was completely his vision.
- Though neither has yet been realized, both a sequel and an American remake of “Versus” have been spoken about over the years.
- Kitamura has explained the movie incorporated so many different elements, from swordplay, guns, martial arts, and zombies, because he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get to make another movie – so he decided to just throw everything he could into “Versus”.
- Video game producer Hideo Kojima of the “Metal Gear” series was an extra on “Versus”, and the movie is said to have been a big influence on the sword fighting of the games.