Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Satanic Versus

Ryuhei Kitamura


Not even I can stomach sitting through shitty zombie movies week in and week out for your amusement, so it is with much pleasure I know turn my loving attention to Ryuhei Kitamura’s low budget masterpiece Versus. If all you know of Kitamura is his muddled take on The Midnight Meat Train, first, I apologize for the two hours of your life you’ll never get back, and second, hie thee until thine local movie emporium or foreign flick kiosk in ye olde shopping mall to snatch up this convoluted good-versus-evil gem which proves boundless exuberance, some clever filmmaking and a bevy of sly conspirators can turn out a film that runs circles around most bloated Hollywood extravaganzas.
Versus posits there are 666 portals to the netherworld scattered throughout the universe, which those with the mystical know-how can exploit for world dominating powers if someone from the right bloodline is sacrificed. Echoing Japan’s infamous suicide forest of Aokigahara, portal number 444 just happens to be where the unnamed protagonist (martial artist, actor and director Tak Sakaguchi), an escaped convict, and his chain gang friend meet up with local yakuza for reasons that are never really explained and would only get in the way of the over-caffeinated imbroglio that ensues.
Versus is the ultimate blend of kung fu, gun fu, sword fu, yakuza fu, zombie fu and bad one liner fu set to a cheez-metal soundtrack, Matrix mocking attire and an irrepressible sense of fun. The plot is almost negligible (including a subplot about a hilariously boastful cop and his partner looking for the escapees that goes absolutely nowhere) but that’s hardly a criticism.

Zombology: In addition to being a portal to the netherworld, the forest, known as the Forest of Resurrection, is also a zombie-haunted landscape where the dead come shambling back to life. While we certainly get a bellyful of traditional zombies, the dead yakuza (who get mowed down in the first 10 minutes) also return from the grave as super-spry mystical zombie-fu warriors who get all chop-socky on our trenchcoated hero.

Standing the notions of good versus evil on its head, Versus manages to slyly to tie together an opening flashback sequence and a flash forward ending in a way that makes you rethink everything that happens in the film, subverting our notions of protagonist and antagonist in the process. This is a film that is an absolute 0 on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of suckitude. In fact, to even mention that wretched pile of festering crap in the same paragraph is an insult of Kitamura’s technical and narrative mastery. Versus is an unabashedly enjoyable film that knows exactly what it wants to be and hits every grace note with panache.

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