In a time when inflated budgets are often used to indicate the amount of bang you'll get for your multiplex buck, Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura surfaced as something of an oddity. His debut feature, Versus, stunned audiences worldwide with a dizzying, near-exhausting onslaught of cinematic bravura -- showcasing hyper-stylized, high-octane thrills and ultra-gory chills on a scant budget of 400,000 dollars. Many argued that such remarkable onscreen energy and creativity had not been achieved on such a small-budget since the early days of Sam Raimi, and genre-fans around the globe couldn't wait to see what the director could accomplish given a substantial budget and adequate resources.
An Osaka native who relocated to Australia in his late teens to study at the School of Visual Arts, the aspiring director made quite an impression with his award-winning graduation film, entitled Exit. Returning to Japan shortly thereafter, Kitamura founded Napalm Films to back Heat After Dark, a 50-minute action film that served as the director's first theatrical release. The short action-horror effort Down to Hell was quick to follow. A high-energy, supernatural-flavored journey into the world of gangsters and the undead, the film served as the perfect primer for Kitamura's rapidly approaching feature debut. Appropriately, Versus was unleashed on Japanese filmgoers just days before Halloween 2000 at the Tokyo International Film Festival -- its nonstop barrage of action and energy left the jaws of stunned festival attendees planted squarely in their laps. Of course, it didn't take long for the word to travel, and after countless grey-market tapes flooded foreign shores, the film eventually received an official stateside DVD release thanks to genre specialists Media Blasters.
To say that expectation was high for Kitamura's follow up to Versus would likely be the biggest understatement of recent international genre cinema, and though general reaction to his subsequent futuristic prison film, Alive (2002), was notably mixed, fans were still curious what the high-energy visionary might cook up next. His subsequent samurai film, Aragami, echoed the early minutes of Versus with its tale of a wandering swordsman who must do battle with a fearsome demon, and that same year, Kitamura maintained his high profile by serving as producer for the outlandish Battlefield Baseball. 2003 also found the increasingly busy filmmaker stepping behind the camera to direct Azumi, a big-budget journey into 17th century feudal Japan concerning a master samurai who trains ten young orphans to become fearsome warlord-slaying assassins.
As rumors of a sequel to Versus continued to swirl through Internet chat rooms (no doubt spurned by Kitamura's admittance that he was preparing an "Ultimate Version" of the film containing new footage), fans rejoiced when it was announced that he would be helming Godzilla: Final Wars. Touted in advertisements as the "Godzilla 50th Anniversary Commemoration Production," the film promised not only a worldwide rampage by the fearsome cinematic lizard, but an all-out monster attack that was rumored to be the green meanie's final cinematic appearance for at least a decade.