Versus (2000)
AKA The Ultimate Versus (director's cut)
AKA Down to Hell 2 (English working title)
AKA Versus l'ultime guerrier (France)

(Premiere Date: October 29, 2000 [Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival])
(Theatrical Release Date: September 08, 2001 [Japan])


When the 444th Door to Hell opens... The Dead will Walk the Earth!

J.C. Mašek III... 

J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!!!

Before the 2008 Winter of Weird comes to it's strange close, I have to tell you about this movie. This season has focused on "Weird" movies, but none, and I mean NONE so weird as this one. Director Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus (which he wrote with Yudai Yamaguchi) is the weirdest of them all. This one practically makes eXistenZ look like Hill Street Blues. Don't believe me? Then I've got two words for you: Zombie Samurai!

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The 2008 Winter of Weird!


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Zombie Samurai! If those two words aren't enough to make you say "Wow, I've never seen THAT before!" then clearly your Weirdness Quotient is off the proverbial charts, man or ma'am! And I highly recommend you consult a physician!

Versus informs us that there are a number of doorways to Hell scattered around this planet (that number being, of course, 666). We are then given a heroic scene in Medieval Japan that takes place right around the 444th Gateway and introduces us to some Undead Ronin! Flash forward several hundred years to somewhere around the present. Somewhere around that same neck of the woods. Two prison escapees sprint through the forest to be intercepted by a gang of waiting psychotic Yakuza, who might be their salvation or their doom. Also unclear is the role that the Girl (Chieko Misaka) the Mob is holding plays in all of this.

However, things start to get really strange when the Yakuza kill the "Other prisoner" (played by Motonari Komiya), leaving only Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi) alive. This isn't strange only in that the other guy seemed like the Alpha Male, but because he almost immediately rises again as a Zombie and starts acting like a motherfucker.

Yo, man... that's Weird.

But this guy is only the first of very, very many. Slooshy this: The forest they are in is known as the "Forest of Resurrection", because the strange properties surrounding the 444th Gateway to Hell cause all the dead there to rise again.

And the Yakuza are especially concerned with this revolting development as they have buried a great number of their Hit Victims within these very woods. And they're pissed off.

Soon KSC2-303 (sounds like one of The Beagle Boys) and The Girl are running from the Zombies and fighting the Yakuza or fighting the Zombies and running from the Yakuza... sometimes both... sometimes... whoa, nelly. Weird? Weird!

But things get even weirder when KSC2-303 boggarts the leather ensemble (including Trenchcoat) of one of the fallen and starts running around and shooting like Neo from The Matrix! And with every passing scene, our Imagineers come up with yet another layer of strangeness to add to the roiling progression of Versus. From the arrival of The Man (Hideo Sakaki) to the revelation that this isn't a random event, but a centuries-planned culmination in a battle that has been going on for generations... and may go on for generations more.

The best part about Versus is its complete random madness. On one hand, Versus is among the most violent, gory and bloody films ever made with a horrific bend almost as rich as its force of action. One can never tell what might happen next but it's sure to be interesting and exciting. Yes, there is a method to this... a carefully planned out method. In truth, however, the method doesn't exactly amount to a "plot". This is pure testosterone in many ways with long, drawn-out fight scenes, relentless profanity and psychotic goings on. Thankfully, it's also hilarious and the filmmakers are careful never to lose the Manga edge they've cultivated here. Versus never takes itself too seriously. It's an action/ horror/ comedy/ farce/ supernatural love story.

It's just the kind of thing I like.

Another unique feature is the complete lack of names used here. Each credit is a description of the part played with the closest thing to a named character being Tak Sakaguchi's "Prisoner KSC2-303". Take a look at the rest of this cast and their associated character credit: Hideo Sakaki plays "The Man, Chieko Misaka plays "The Girl", Kenji Matsuda plays "Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife", Yuichiro Arai plays "Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver", Minoru Matsumoto plays "Crazy yakuza with amulet", Kazuhito Ohba plays "Yakuza with glasses", Takehiro Katayama plays "Red-haired assassin", Ayumi Yoshihara plays "Long-haired female assassin", Sh˘ichir˘ Masumoto plays "One-handed cop", Toshiro Kamiaka plays "Samurai warrior", Yukihito Tanikado plays "Cop with Barrett", Hoshimi Asai plays "Short-haired female assassin", Ryosuke Watabe plays "Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat" and Motonari Komiya plays "Other prisoner"!

Yo, man... that's Weird.

The drawbacks here would primarily depend on the viewer. Many may hate this movie, considering it to be pointless. Many may absolutely adore this movie and consider any plot secondary to the action. In truth, this is a rare film that works in spite of its plot. Look, I detest most movies that rely on action and shocks to survive, but this film does it. There's an almost primal reveling in its strangeness, daring viewers to "not get it". While the film can be scary, it's almost too funny to remain so in any real way. It's a credit to the very fine cast that Versus can pull off being this ridiculous throughout its runtime while remaining quite entertaining.

The special effects, make-up effects and gore effects all help this to work, too. Yes, this is a very, very gory film. It's also very Japanese in so many ways, and very experimental in many others. Make-up shifts, color changes and Manga/ Anime-type transitions keep this one firmly set in the surreal zone.

You've probably never seen a film like Versus and you're not likely to ever again. Anything too similar would feel like a rip-off. Anything following it could dilute the impact of this very cool film. I'm throwing Three and One Half Stars out of Five at Versus, the Zombie Flick from Japan that is outstanding in its own field. A Field covered in Trees hiding the 444th Portal to Hell, that is! Watch it if you dare, but be prepared to laugh and not believe a second of it. Revel in this: As the 444th link to this site can prove... I'll see you in the Next Reel!

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Versus (2000) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
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