Year: 2000
Length: 119/130min
Prisoner KSC2-303
Ryuhei Kitamura
Action Director:
Yuji Shimomura

Average: 4.4

Versus follows the oldschool horror model where nobody has names. Instead, characters are credited as "the man," "the girl," "Yakuza with glasses," "Yakuza leader with butterfly knife," "crazy Yakuza with amulet," "one-handed cop," and, of course, Tak as "Prisoner KSC2-303." If you can handle rampant gore and the fact that the male lead keeps knocking out the heroine in every fight, you should be fine. There's even some yaoi undertones!

I picked up Versus while looking for more Japanese action movies after watching Battle Royale. It came highly recommended, praised as a cross between Matrix, Evil Dead, and Yakuza movies - how could I go wrong?? But the first time I watched it, I have to admit I was kind of disappointed. The pacing was inexcusably slow given the bare-bones plot and characters would act in annoyingly bizarre ways. The action was amazing, but had little to do with what was going on.

The fight scenes feature every weapon known to man. Be it hand-to-hand, swords, knives, guns, really big guns, there's something for everybody. My favorite one has always been the knife fight towards the beginning of the movie. But, after learning more about going ons behind the scenes, I think I'm now leaning towards the final katana fight. If you watch this movie for pure mindless action, it is a very fun ride.

There was one saving grace beside the action, though. Prisoner KSC2-303 had the loveliest, softest, airy voice I had ever heard. I fell in love with it and would leave the movie on at night just so I could fall asleep to that heavenly sound. But that was where the attraction ended. His hair was too short, and if I were to speak frankly, he is too muscular to be my ideal bodytype. Still, I kept watching it. I'm a sucker for trenchcoats so I couldn't help paying attention to him. He definitely had his moments of cuteness, especially in the flashbacks to feudal Japan, and he moved beautifully. No wonder everyone compares him to Dante from Devil May Cry. It was only a matter of time before I developed a solid appreciation for him, looks and all.

This fascination only expanded years later, when I came back to the movie and learned more about the history behind it. It was Tak's first movie. Ryuhei Kitamura found Tak fighting on the street, and basically told him to come fight for his movie instead. When Tak tried out for the part, he got turned down by the producer for his lack of acting ability. Indeed, Tak is ridiculed throughout the movie's audio commentary for his lack of acting ability until the final fights. Bah, it's not bad acting, it's nonchalance! Yeah... >_> Anyhow, one way or another, Kitamura got him the lead role. Tak repaid him by being his personal bodyguard and doing anything he asked.

Fight scene with real knives? Sure. Cocking a gun with his teeth? No problem. That last one did cost him a tooth, but luckily one of the zombies was a dentist and they put it back on with superglue. Tak also broke three ribs in a long fall down a woodland hill relatively early in the filming. He never told any of the other actors, though, because he didn't want them to hold back on him in action scenes. But that's nothing compared to the final showdown with his arch nemesis. For the entire rapid katana duel, Tak not only had a broken tooth and broken ribs, he also had no depth perception or peripheral vision. They plastered up his left eye and his right eye could barely see anything due to the thick contact lens. Tak freely admits that he put his life on the line for that fight. To quote him in the faturette: "I was desperate, he's swinging his katana at me and this eye was blocked... so I couldn't see it here... or here... or here... I could finally see him when he got here. And that's when I blocked."

The team that made Versus bonded like family, and went on to make many more movies together. It can be said that the relationship between Tak Sakaguchi and Ryuhei Kitamura is much like that of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Kitamura directed Azumi, Godzilla: Final Wars, The Messenger, Alive, and Aragami - all with Tak making cameos. Yudai Yamaguchi, the assistant director of Versus, later directed Battlefield Baseball with Tak in the lead role, and also Cromartie High. Hideo Sakaki, who played Tak's nemesis in Versus, also co-starred with Tak in Azumi, Azumi 2, Aragami, Battlefield Baseball, Alive, and Godzilla: Final Wars, not to mention the upcoming Versus 2. Yuji Shimomura, my second favorite member on the team after Tak, served as action director for Versus, Aragami, Battlefield Baseball, and (unrelated but pretty damn awesome) Devil May Cry 3! He also directed Death Trance, starring Tak.

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DISCLAIMER: All images copyright Tak Sakaguchi, Ryuhei Kitamura, Yudai Yamaguchi, Yuji Shimomura, and all respective owners whose work, support, distribution, etc contributed to the making of the movies, interviews, documentaries, etc. I do not know Tak Sakaguchi and have nothing to do with him (yet?). I am just here to admire his work. No copyright infringement is intended.