Versus (2000, Kitamura Ryuhei), the ultimate version

I’m worried I’m tired. The last time I watched Versus, I gave it one. This time I give it three. There’s a slight difference in the version I watched–this time I watched the “Ultimate Version,” which has about the same running time, but ten minutes of reshot scenes. I guess there were some music changes, which might have to do with the incredible quality bump. It’s such a fantastic experience–Kitamura’s direction is beautiful, the editing–between circling shots and tightly cut fight scenes–wonderful stuff. Versus is a boring kung fu zombie movie, absolutely in love with what the camera can do. As far as self-indulgent projects go, it’s near the best.

For the first hour and change, there’s almost no story beyond the chase through the woods, the zombies, and the little suggestions there’s something else going on. During that hour, Matsuda Kenji rules the movie. He’s broad and funny and easily the film’s most interesting character. The hero, played by Sakaguchi Tak, is reserved, not allowed to show any feeling during the first three quarters of the film. Still, the scenes with him and the girl–Misaka Chieko, who’s good–do work; the rest of the time he’s usually killing zombies, so it’s fine.

Then Sakaki Hideo shows up, as the bad guy, and the film changes completely. Matsuda becomes a liability, an enormous mistake on Kitamura’s part, turning an amusing character into an annoying one, so annoying you feel bad you liked him in the first place. The pace speeds up, the story actually comes into existence–it’s kind of like Highlander, only with a damsel in distress (wait, Highlander had a damsel in distress… a reincarnated damsel in distress). Kitamura runs three story-lines through Versus the whole time, switching when Sakaki appears, letting him take over Matsuda’s story. There’s also the comedic story-line, which follows funny stuff more than a specific character. The comedic stuff, which leaves the main story after the first half hour, is a nice breather. There’s some really good stuff there.

But the second half of Versus is really all about Sakaki. Even when he’s doing something stupid, he’s great. His scene with Misaka, where they talk about being reincarnated or immortal or something, absolutely great. It doesn’t dwell on setting up the goofy story, which the zombies help, but only so much… Maybe all the references (like the Robocop one) distracted me and it bothered me less. I don’t know.

I do know the last fight scene is succulent, self-indulgent and a joy. It’s a long and boring fight scene, beautifully directed. Some of Versus‘s strengths lie in not being able to figure out how Kitamura can make it work the way he does. Some stuff–guys running through the forest–it works for everyone, but his approach to action scenes in this film, no one else ever does anything like he does.

I might just be tired though.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; written by Kitamura and Yamaguchi Yudai; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; music by Morino Nobuhiko; produced by Nishimura Hideo; released by napalm FiLMS.

Starring Sakaguchi Tak (Prisoner KSC2-303), Sakaki Hideo (The Man), Misaka Chieko (The Girl), Matsuda Kenji (Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife), Arai Yuichiro (Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver), Matsumoto Minoru (Crazy yakuza with amulet), Ohba Kazuhito (Yakuza with glasses), Katayama Takehiro (Red-haired assassin), Yoshihara Ayumi (Long-haired female assassin), Masumoto Shoichiro (One-handed cop), Kamiaka Toshiro (Samurai warrior), Tanikado Yukihito (Cop with Barrett), Asai Hoshimi (Short-haired female assassin), Watabe Ryosuke (Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat) and Komiya Motonari (Other prisoner).


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