Back in the days of buying VHS tenth generation dubs of movies at comic conventions, getting a copy of Versus was a big score. Written, produced and directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Godzilla: Final Wars, The Midnight Meat Train, No One Lives), it was a non-stop fistfight zombie massacre, the kind of movie you could put on at a party and no one would complain about the subtitles.
Today, twenty years later, there’s nerd rage because Arrow dared to tweak the colors on this blu ray release, even though they worked directly with Kitamura and most of them saw a copy that was either many, many versions removed from an original or saw it streaming. As for me, I’m beyond happy to have an incredible looking version of this movie in my collection.
Originally intended as a sequel to Kitamura’s Down to Hell, instead this became a movie all its own that starts with a story that there are 666 portals on Earth that connect this world to the other side which are concealed from human beings. Somewhere in Japan, there exists the 444th portal known as The Forest of Resurrection, where we see a samurai battle zombies before being killed by an evil priest and his followers.
That brings us to here and now, as two prisoners escape through the forest and meet up with a gang of Yakuzas. Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi*, Battlefield Baseball, Deadball, Why Don’t You Play In Hell?) notices that they have a girl — known only as The Girl — kidnapped and decides to kill several of them and escape with her.
The yakuza call for The Man (Hideo Sakaki, Battlefield Baseball, Kamen Rider × Super Sentai × Space Sheriff: Super Hero Taisen Z), who berates them for letting them go. They retaliate by killing him and in turn, he rises from the dead — as do a forest full of their victims — because he and Prisoner KSC2-303 are reincarnations of past lives. The Man plans to sacrifice The Girl to open the portal hidden in The Forest of Resurrection and obtain the power of darkness. He kills Prisoner KSC2-303, but The Girl revives him with her blood.
While he is coming back to life, he learns he was the ally of the samurai we saw die and that The Man and his gang were the evil priests. The Girl was a princess whose blood was the secret to opening the power of darkness, so Prisoner KSC2-303 sacrificed her to save the world, then was killed by The Man.
What follows is the fight to end all fights. Pretty much every action-oriented gunplay film from 2000 on owes something to this movie**, a film so out of control that the two shoot at one another point blank multiple times, their bullets blocking each other every single time.
99 years later, despite the Earth being destroyed, they find one another again. The Man is now the hero, Prisoner KSC2-303 has his gang and The Girl is still alive, telling him that she should have been on his side. With nothing left to blow up, Prisoner KSC2-303 demands another battle. The look on The Girl’s face says it all, because they will fight forever.
Versus at the same time is a wildly original mashup of gunplay, zombies, humor and martial arts while at the same time a homage to The Evil Dead and Highlander. Kitamura says that he was inspired by the films of Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and George Miller.
You have to love a director this in love with film, someone getting high off his own supply, who spent the majority of the film’s budget on food for his cast and crew. You can spot the references — The Frighteners; Predator; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; The Harder They Come — just as easily as you can see the movies that refer to it afterward.
It’s as close to a perfect movie as you can get.
You can get the new Arrow blu ray release of Versus from MVD. It features a new 2K restoration from original film elements by Arrow Films, approved by the director, of both Versus and the 2004’s Versus Plus, which has ten minutes of new and improved action.
Plus, you get a treasure trove of extras, including Nervous and Nervous 2, two mini-movies showing side stories of other characters in Versus, as well as Versus FF Version, a condensed, 20-minute recut of the film.
This is why they make blu ray. Physical media — even if you’ve bought numerous bootlegs of this film already — forever!
*Sakaguchi claims that he met Kitamura during a street fight that he 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. Yes, that sounds like something out of Street Fighter, but it’s supposedly true.
**So do video games. Metal Gear producer-director Hideo Kojima is an extra in this and he picked Kitamura to direct the remake of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, which is full of Versus influence.