“Versus” is a campy Japanese action horror film that’s also an incomprehensible crapfest. From beginning to end, it’s just a jumbled mess of things on the screen, all given little thought or explanation, and trying to decipher meaning or even sense will only create more confusion.
It presents itself as an epic and takes place in a mystical “Forest of Resurrection.” The movie opens with a brief explanation about how there are various places (666 of them to be exact) where one can transfer to the next world, and one of them is in a forest in Japan (the 444th place, apparently). Immediately after this explanation, the first image shown on screen is a man being sliced in half by a katana. Then we get to see a samurai fighting off several zombie samurais eventually leading up to his death. Okay. Next we are taken to the present and two convicts are racing through the forest. We know they’re convicts because their uniforms are actually labeled, “lawbreaker.”
They meet up with some yakuza that’ve shown up to meet them and have also kidnapped a young girl for reasons that they were never told. Because one of the escaped convicts (played by Tak Sakaguchi) is a feminist (and I’m not kidding about that; he actually says so himself), he kills one of the yakuza, takes the girl, and runs off into the forest. The remaining yakuza chase him while waiting for their leader to show and discover that if anything dies in the forest, it comes back as a zombie. Unfortunately for the yakuza, this forest was their ideal place for dumping bodies.
There’s plenty more story that appears between the zombie kill-fests, but it involves some kind of ancient prophecy and destined battles and immortals and other information that’s not only needlessly complicated, but forced into the story to create even more insane fight scenes. Nearly every character – no, make that EVERY character – is played so two dimensional and over-the-top (some more than others) that it often feels like watching a bad cartoon. Characters pose in specific stances before, after, and during fight scenes while they spout out stupid lines that one would expect to find in a B-movie.
There’s this one character that’s never named (played by Kenji Matsuda) who’s so ridiculous it’s actually distracting. It’s like he was trying to out-crazy all the other psychos that make up this movie’s cast. It’s no surprise that when he inevitably becomes a zombie, he reverts to basically acting like a wild dog (and I mean crawling around on all fours and barking). In some cases the acting is laughable, but after around two hours of this…it gets a little old. In fact, now that I think about it, not one character in this entire movie even has a name.
The direction is also pretty erratic. There are only a few select scenes where the camera isn’t moving. Even a scene a simple as a few guys getting out of a car is made to be like some kind of incredible action sequence featuring a camera that shakes, rotates, zooms, and just about everything else in order to keep the viewers’ attention. It’s downright stupid for the most part. The few scenes without a constantly rotating camera or rapid-fire cutting usually just frame certain characters in certain positions in order to make them look cool. That’s pretty much how most of this movie seems to be made. It’s as if director Ryûhei Kitamura (“Godzilla: Final Wars”, “The Midnight Meat Train”) merely viewed each scene as a success if the characters looked cool; it didn’t matter if what they were doing made no sense.
Well, since I’ve made it clear by now what I thought of this film, let’s go over what actually works. First off, this movie was clearly shot with a low budget and the zombie effects are pretty good. The blood and guts, though silly, look pretty decent by current standards. The fight scenes look pretty good as well. In some cases the camera uses a lot of quick cuts to make them seem more impressive than they actually are, but for the most part, the fights are well shot and even entertaining. I’ll also admit that a few of the gags in this film are actually funny. Like in any action film, ammo never seems to run out. But in this movie, there’s a character that never runs out of guns. His gun is stolen from him twice, but somehow he always seems to have a replacement tucked away in the back of his pants. Now at first this seems almost unnoticeable, but then it happens again; and again. I couldn’t help but smirk at how this character seems to be able to pull an infinite supply of guns out of his own ass.
Another thing that was pretty funny (and I’m not sure if it was supposed to be funny, but I found it to be hilarious after a while) was how often the hero and everyone else seemed to spit up blood. At first this is no big deal, but it starts happening all the time. It happens so much that it could probably become a successful drinking game; every time a character coughs up blood: you drink.
The set up of the story, being yakuza fighting zombies, is kind of an interesting concept but unfortunately this movie actually delivers too much to satisfy such a simple and potentially fun idea. As a 90 minute zombie comedy, “Versus” possibly could have worked. Instead we’re given a 2 hour gore-fest with a ludicrous plot and an ending that’s as stupid as it is disappointing.