The early 2000s turned out to be a prosperous time for me when it came to my absorption of Asian films and niche DVD releases. Filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura landed on my radar as one of several auteurs leading the charge, sending audiences off with early zombie gangster sci-fi and jidaigeki hits like Versus, Alive, Aragami and Azumi, and ultimately getting to prove to fans that he was readily capable of delivering more solemn and pensive characters and stories on screen.
VERSUS Trailer: Re-Live The ‘Ultimate’ Legendary Japanese Action Horror Thriller On Blu-Ray This December
The zeitgeist of the last twenty years with Asian cinema has been a purely awesome and memorable era to be a part of, and it’s all thanks in part to Ryuhei Kitamura whose 2000 action horror, Versus, helped pave the way for my own fandom apart from Hollywood’s own investments, the “Hong Kong crossover” included.
After shelling out gory chills and suspenseful thrills for his Western transition in The Midnight Meattrain, No One Lives, Downrange and in a segment in Nightmare Cinema, it’s refreshing to see Japanese cult favorite Ryuhei Kitamura return to a lively action setup.
Actress Ruby Rose is riding high this week having emerged in Thursday’s trailer for the Fall premiere of Batwoman on The CW. She’s also remained consistent in her big screen endeavors following roles in xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, John Wick: Chapter Two and shark thriller, The Meg, now staking her claim with her latest action role in The Doorman with a release now being planned thanks to Lionsgate’s U.S. acquisition of the film at Cannes.
The Works, an international organization comprised of the greatest thieves in the world. When the head of the organization is betrayed by one of their own (Yan), legendary thieves and criminals Lupin III (Oguri), femme fatale Fujiko (Kuroki), gunman Jigen (Tamayama), and master swordsman Goemon (Ayano), head out to find their former ally.
Pardon me while I continue to hopelessly wait for a sequel to Kitamura Ryuhei’s 2000 smash hit, Versus. Needless to say though, I’m glad he’s still on the move having last adapted Lupin III for the screen prior to his late 2016 attachment to home invasion thriller, Doorman, which interestingly got no movement at all from what I’ve observed, which sucks because the premise is just fantastic.
Pan over, however, to a new press announcement which talks of Kitamura’s new sniper suspense thriller, Downrange, for which he is also producing the film with Eleven Arts’s own Mori Ko (Lords of Chaos, Man From Reno, Uzumasa Limelight) and with Maki Taro (Motorway, Fulltime Killer) executive producing. In addition, Kitamura crafted the story with screenwriter Joey O’Bryan (Motorway, Fulltime Killer), which the presser describes as “a minimalist thriller with maximum tension” and promises to deliver “nonstop tension from its opening frame”.
Read on via Horror Society:
In the film, six college students are carpooling cross-country when one of their tires blows out on a desolate stretch of country road. Getting out to fix the flat, they quickly discover that this was no accident. The tire was shot out. With their vehicle incapacitated, the group is pinned down and mercilessly attacked by an unseen assailant as they desperately attempt to find a way to escape.
Producer Mori states, “It’s an honor and privilege to partner with a director as visionary as Ryuhei Kitamura, whose art has thrilled genre audiences for over fifteen years since first shocking the world with his debut feature Versus. Our longtime friendship has culminated in this exciting collaboration, and Ryuhei’s dedication to horror, action, and thrillers makes him the perfect fit to helm a film like DOWNRANGE – which is nonstop tension from its opening frame.”
Adds director Kitamura, “While I’ve created single location films in the past, DOWNRANGE marks a new style of storytelling for me, wherein sustained, breathless terror in a singular location is what drives the entire plot. We’ve crafted a film in which is fueled by relentless dread, and are very excited to share it with horror and suspense fans around the world.”
Kitamura has unleashed an uncompromising vision with DOWNRANGE, creating a minimalist thriller with maximum tension. His film-making is as stylish as ever, but leaner and meaner than ever before.
DOWNRANGE stars newcomer Kelly Connaire, Stephanie Pearson (Insidious: Chapter 2), Rod Hernandez-Farella, Anthony Kirlew, Alexa Yeames (The CW’s The Originals), and Jason Tobias (ABC Television’s Notorious). It is currently scheduled to be released in early 2018.
Kitamura himself is no stranger to contained thrillers having made titles such as Sakaki Hideo’s 2004 screen rematch with Sakaguchi Tak in Alive, as well as shortfilm hit, The Messenger. Projects come and go. Downrange is no Doorman or Versus 2 for that matter, but Kitamura is the bees knees and I’m a proud fan among many. So, I’ll take this.
The following is a version of a segment to a compilation article to which I contributed with other writers over at The Action Elite prior to its publication on February 9, 2015. CLICK HERE to read the article in its entirety.
My college experience wasn’t a lot of fun, though I did have some good memories. I was a member of a cult genre club that followed sci-fi, games and anime, and it was through my membership there about fifteen years ago that one of ours bought a VHS tape of a little-known Japanese flick called Versus, directed by Kitamura Ryuhei. I saw a snippet of it in passing but it never quite caught onto me until I came upon a point in my life where I needed an outlet to deal with personal hardship and heartbreak.
So, cult Asian movies on DVD became my thing and so did my patronage of franchises like Tokyo Shock and online stores such as HKFlix.com and YesAsia.com. It’s also how I ended up buying multiple copies of Versus in various versions between Region 1 and Region 2-coded single and double-disc units. Why? Well, even for a thinly-budgeted zombie action slasher with performances that often dove into delightful improv amid all such gonzo plot development and gory imagery, it is just THAT good, and would ultimately embody the epicenter of my appreciation for chambara-style Japanese action for my generation, in addition to actor and lead star, Sakaguchi Tak.
The film doesn’t bear any names to reference its characters, including Sakaguchi whose role goes by none other than Prisoner KSC2-303. A sequel to late 90’s zombie slasher, Down To Hell, Versus takes off with our prisoner and his inmate buddy escaping through the woods while still in shackles as they set off to a rendezvous point where they meet up with a ragtag squad of Yakuza led by an eccentric knife wielding lieutenant, and it isn’t long before tensions increase and no one likes each other. Things eventually get worse when a mysterious young woman (Misaka Chieko) being held captive is pulled from the backseat, and our hero is instantly displeased with the situation. Soon enough, someone gets a bullet to the head resulting in a Mexican standoff with all guns drawn, and it is only seconds later that the same dead body suddenly awakens.
The Yakuza focus their fire on the undead body at hand while our hero and the girl escape back into the woods, ensuing a manhunt for both which takes the fight into the haunted forest where our characters are confronted by an army of undead rising from the dirt below. Of course, at the center of it all is our hero prisoner whose chemistry with the girl is nothing short of stiff while she continues to care for him, knowing almost full well what lies ahead in a story that jumps back and forth between two different periods, setting up an explosive finale of big guns, bigger bullets, and an epic sword duel between two warriors where only one can emerge as the victor.
While Sakaguchi wasn’t a very good actor at this time despite having done a few stints in film, his performance served its purpose, lending an aire of unwritten charm and humor to his leather-jacketed tough guy exterior, and Misaka‘s role certainly helps. The overall theme we get from his character is, to simply put, a tough guy with a really vague past and a potential darkside. He doesn’t believe in hitting women, but will knock a chick unconcious for her safety before he fights anyone, and he’s the last person you would expect to be sentimental which brings just a little more humor to his character development. With this in mind, it’s not until much later in the second act before going into the third that we begin to care about him more, fully engaged in hero mode with a missing eye, locked and loaded as he confronts actor Sakaki Hideo who plays “The Man”.
Sakaguchi carries himself quite well through all of the action in most of the shots he is seen, with choreography by longtime collaborator and friend Shimomura Yuji, taking on numerous elements that comprise a lot of what we have come to know in action stardom. Even Kitamura himself has often lended the design of Sakaguchi‘s to the credit of a few known Hollywood movie characters, namely the Terminator and Kurt Russell’s memorable role as renegade savior Snake Plissken in the Escape movies; Point in fact, if you own a double-disc set of this film containing some behind-the-scenes featurettes, you will see segment on set where Sakaguchi demonstrates several gun poses modeled off of classic action movie actors and director like Mel Gibson and Chow Yun-Fat. It’s a pretty funny moment and very indicative of just how much fun this cast and crew had on the set of this film.
Versus is a definitive look into the mind of a director who once was told that there was no money for the kind of movie he wanted to make. It was also the start of an exciting an new era of Japanese action going into the new millenium, and Kitamura‘s career has grown ever since, with productions having gotten bigger and bigger with a roster of actors between Japan, the U.S., and several parts of Asia. That said, Sakaguchi shares quite a chunk of this legacy, having acquainted himself so well with the film festival scene in a role that has since spawned a cameo appearance in a shortfilm Kitamura directed a few years thereafter, and the hopes of bringing the character back for a Versus sequel. Unfortunately though, with all the talk of Sakaguchi‘s retirement after he finishes with Shimomura‘s latest directorial gig, Re:Born, any chance of a Versus 2 doesn’t seem likely to happen, which is depressing.
Versus may not be an action packed blockbuster that takes itself seriously, but it offers plenty of reasons to care about the characters, to laugh often and be entertained. And with this, Kitamura and Sakaguchi have made a great pairing in bringing us a classic, with a slate of colorful and unique characters and a brilliantly vague approach that never really makes it clear just which side it is you should root for until the very end.
I sincerly hope that Kitamura follows this up somehow, even if it means recasting the role or introducing new ones to this universe. Versus is a true benchmark of cult fandom for Japan and fans all around, with a lead actor whose signature performance leaves a huge mark in history that further validates what makes Japanese action cinema so awesome.
Moviegoers in Japan can expect director Hiyao Miyazaki’s 1979 Lupin III film, The Castle Of Cagliostro, to be re-released with a new digital remastering as soon as May 9, with other territories to follow suit. This week, however, it was during a recent exclusive TBS morning broadcast that the first footage from Azumi (2003) director Ryuhei Kitamura‘s own upcoming live action adaptation of the initial Monkey Punch manga went public, featuring lead actor and fellow Azumi co-star Shun Ogiri in the title role.
The teaser footage also comes after roughly a year of some heavily active speculation regarding the possibility of the acclaimed filmmaker returning to helm a much-desired sequel to his 2000 cult favorite, Versus. I’ve been a fan of Kitamura since college, and I can’t wait to see what happens next with his career in directing. And by all means, if Kitamura still supports the idea of an American remake of said film, that’s fine by me, but as long as he’s the one in the director’s seat. Until then, I’ll take what I can get, and I look forward to Lupin III when it comes out following its Japan release beginning August 30.
Lupin III also reunites Kitamura and Ogiri with fellow Azumi scribe Mataichiro Yamamoto for the screenplay, and also stars Tetsuji Tamayama as Daisuke Jigen, actress Go Ayano as Goemon Ishikawa, actor Tadanobu Asano as Detective Kōichi Zenigata, and Meisa Kuroki as Fujiko Mine. Jerry Yan, South Korean singer Kim Joon and Thailand actor Thanayong Wongtrakul round out the cast.
Lupin, Jigen, Goemon, Fujiko, and Zenigata come together for the first time as Lupin and his crew attempt to steal the “Crimson Heart of Cleopatra” which is held in a giant high-security safe called the “Ark of Navarone”.
H/T: Oricon Style, Anime News Network, Eigapedia, Twitchfilm
While we await further developments on the previously announced Versus sequel, acclaimed director Ryuhei Kitamura‘s upcoming action adventure heist flick, Lupin III continues to make headlines since beginning filming in October, and releasing several set photos featuring the cast and crew from its epic shoot. As such, the latest set picture (available below comes from the crew’s current filming location in Chendai, China as per a shooting schedule which also included Japan and Thailand.
Anime News Network forwarded the new photo above with news that the film has been slated for an August 30, 2014 release. Adapted for the screen by Mataichirō Yamamoto, Lupin III is based on a 1967 Japanese manga publication about a gentleman thief who, with the help of his crew, travels the world stealing priceless artifacts prior to announcing his intentions via calling card before every heist.
The film’s plot is said to be centered on how the main character and his crew initially met before forming their infamous gang. The film stars Shun Oguri who plays the lead role, along with Tetsuji Tamayama starring as Daisuke Jigen, actress Go Ayano as Goemon Ishikawa, actor Tadanobu Asano as Detective Kōichi Zenigata, and Meisa Kuroki as Fujiko Mine. Jerry Yan, South Korean singer Kim Joon and Thailand actor Thanayong Wongtrakul round out the cast.
Stay tuned for more info.
The emotional fanboy rollercoaster of the last few months regarding the “retirement” of beloved Japanese action star Tak Sakaguchi signaled what many people thought would be the end of an era that saw the rise of Napalm Films, and the emergence of Nippon cinema glory with the highly acclaimed cult jiadaigeki-style blood-splatter zombie action classic, Versus, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who is promoting his latest action horror release, No One Lives, starring Luke Evans. In an April article cited at Nippon Cinema, Kitamura managed to close the book on those reports stating that he would bring Sakaguchi out of retirement saying, “The lead actor [Tak Sakaguchi] is retired, but I’ll get him to make a comeback. He’ll do it if I do it.”.
Thankfully, a recent interview on Monday was shared by writer Diva Velez (a.k.a. The Lady Miz Diva) over at Twitchfilm, where director Ryuhei Kitamura clarified the ordeal and put some further speculation to rest with his own ideas, essentially laughing off Tak’s retirement internet bomb-drop saying, “That retirement thing is fucking bullshit! I was kind of pissed that I was the only one who was very vocal about that.”
Kitatmura continued his assessment, suggesting that “fucking politics” were what likely led to Tak’s decision. “Those powerful agencies – those parasites and sharks – and poor Tak Sakaguchi, he’s trapped in the middle and he was kind of like forced to retire. Which he never had to do, anyway.” he says. “But it’s a small world, anyway, and of course that’s why he retired, but I was like, ‘What on earth made you? You are the stubborn person. Just fuck them all.’ But you know, Taku has his reasons.”
Earlier in the interview, Diva asked what Ryuhei missed about making movies in Japan aftet directing films like No One Lives and the Bradley Cooper/Vinnie Jones starrer, Midnight Meat Train. Kitamura stated how he got used to the industry in Hollywood, learning to communicate and have a crystal clear vision of what he wants for a production, but also highlighted the differing impediments between the East and the West he observed in the process, such as the proximity between pre-production and production, and matters of etiquette, dealing with “liars” and working in “superficial relationships” with other industry professionals.
Among other things, he also went on to state that Versus 2 would stay true to the original, with a production set on a “completely new, much, much bigger scale” with a story continuing where the first film left off and exploring the darker journey of Tak’s character, Prisoner KSC2-303.
Perhaps this all means that not only is Tak not retired, but also we could see more films other than Versus 2. (Maybe that Death Trance 2 gem we all celebrated hearing about?) Yeah, I know. Time will tell. At any rate, I hope that Kitamura’s working relationship wit Sakaguchi continues to prosper for the days and years ahead.
No One Lives is currently out in theaters. To read the rest of Diva’s interview and learn more about what the director has in store, click HERE.
According to several reports forwarded from Nippon Cinema everyone’s action filmmaking fan favorite, Ryuhei Kitamura is going to start on Versus 2, the third installment to the Down To Hell franchise that led to the blockbuster success low-budget Japanese cult fan favorite, Versus, which starred Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda, Yuichiro Arai, Minoru Matsumoto, Kazuhito Ohba, Takehiro Katayama, Ayumi Yoshihara,Shōichirō Masumoto, Toshiro Kamiaka, Yukihito Tanikado, Hoshimi Asai, Ryosuke Watabe and Motonari Komiya.