So, watching Versus, I realized a few things. First, Kitamura is probably the best action director… ever. Second, he can’t write his way out of a hat. Third, he’s also a great director of actors. Versus, for the superior first forty minutes, has a lot of characters in frame, doing a lot of things, not just action, but also just exuding personality. Kitamura does a great job with it.
It’s not just his shot construction, of course. It’s the way he moves the camera. He only does it in the first forty, but it’s a fantastic system for informing the viewer of what’s going on–where people are standing, where they’re moving. There’s so much good in Versus, which is incredibly hard to believe considering it’s described as Evil Dead meets The Matrix. Unfortunately, like I said, all that goodness is technical (some of the performances are excellent, however).
The writing falls apart, but then it breaks down more and more. Whenever Kitamura feels the pace slowing, he introduces more characters. We start with eight, which quickly becomes six, then he introduces three more, then another, then another two. The last additions are these asshole cops who are supposed to be funny, and to some degree they are–and it’s really interesting that one makes the (intentionally) geographically incorrect remark that he grew up in Yellowstone National Park in Minnesota, but the American DVD company subtitled it to Canada. Not surprising, that Japanese people have a better awareness of U.S. geography than American DVD aficionados.
Kitamura, as a writer and somewhat as a director (he keeps twirling the lead’s leather trench coat), is seemingly obsessed with “cool.” Versus is a film dictated by “wouldn’t it be cool if…” which is no way to tell a good story, but there wasn’t one anywhere in Versus, thankfully. It just got worse than it needed to get.
Had I seen Versus before Azumi, I might have shut it off (though probably not, as the opening forty are incredibly well-directed), but I certainly would never have found Azumi. Azumi is a good movie.
All Kitamura needs is a good script–which means he shouldn’t touch it.
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).