The Female Prisoner Scorpion Collection
Female Prisoner 701 - Scorpion
Directed by: Shunya Ito
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama
Nami Matsushima, a naive young woman, is tricked and used by her detective boyfriend, finding herself being raped by a gang of yakuza he's intending to blackmail. Insensed by this she tries to murder him, only to find herself in prison surrounded by sadistic guards and fellow prisoners.
The Female Prisoner Scorpion series has long been a cult series, and it turns out to deserve its revered status.
Starting with a frantic jailbreak sequence, Nami and her friend race through swamp land to reach safety - but to no avail, they are eventually captured and returned to the prison. The warden and his men are determined to break Nami's spirit, but fail at each attempt. Nami stoically endures everything they try, biding her time until she gets the opportunity to strike.
Its fair to say that Nami gets put through the wringer here. She's sexually and phyiscally assaulted both by the guards and the prefect prisoners, who wear an orange uniform instead of the usual dark blue one. However she never lets them see if she's suffering. She remains stoic throughout, enduring more and more punishment just to aggravate her aggressors in the hope they'll make a mistake.
My favourite sequence happens when the prefects try to set up one of the other women who've annoyed them. They plant a metal file in her clothes while she's having a shower, but Nami spots them and turns the tables on them. This leads to Nami being attacked and has a very satisfying, visceral outcome.
Female Scorpion, like the rest of the series, is very artistically stylish. The scene where Nami recalls losing her virginity is symbolised by a white sheet being stained by a large bloody spot, forming the Japan Flag. The scene when she realises she's been betrayed by her boyfriend is a wonderful mix of lurid lighting and stop-motion photography.
FEMALE PRISONER 701: JAILHOUSE 41
Directed by: Shunya Ito
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Kayoko Shiraishi
Nami is back in prison, forced to spend a year in a solitary underground cell and forced to endure more torture and torment at the hands of the guards and fellow prisoners. When opportunity strikes, Nami manages to escape with six other prisoners, led by the antagonistic Hide Oba. The escapees are hounded by the prison warden, who hates Nami for her role in his disfigurement.
There are times when this feels a bit slower than the first installment and things get even more lurid than the first film. The warden, angry and frustrated that Nami is a folk hero among the prisoners, orders for his men to gang-rape her in front of the other women. This has the weird result that the women feel that Nami's vulnerability, and her inability to save herself, is some sort of betrayal of their faith in her.
Like the first film, Jailhouse 41 has a number of artistic flourishes, such as the way an old shack pulls itself apart to reveal an old woman sitting inside.
Nami establishes her anti-hero stance in this film, as she considers a bunch of hostages to be potential collateral damage in her bid to get revenge on Oba.
FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE
Directed by: Shunya Ito
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Mikio Narita
Nami is still on the run, and the film starts with two detectives spotting her on a metro train. However its not so easy to capture the Scorpion, and Inspector Goda finds this out the hard way - handcuffing himself to Nami, he ends up losing his arm!
Nami is helped by a prostitute in an incestuous relationship with her mentally disabled brother, but not only is Inspector Goda still looking for her, she winds up being messed with by a local yakuza gang, including an ex-prison mate.
There are a number of great scenes in this film, including the way Nami deals with one of her neighbours who tries to blackmail her into having sex with him. She basically tells the guy's regular girlfriend, who attacks him with a kettle full of boiling water!
There is a thrilling sequence where Nami is trapped in the sewers, ending with some scary pyrotechnics, followed by a brilliant sequence in which Nami sneaks IN to prison in order to take revenge on another of her enemies, and finishes with a brilliant sequence which would have been a fitting end to the series.
FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: 701's GRUDGE SONG
Directed by: Yasuharu Hasebe
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Masakazu Tamura, Hiroshi Tsukata, Akemi Negishi
At the start of this final instalment, Nami is still on the loose, but Detective Hirose and his team are closing in. They put the pressure on her friend Yasuo Kudo, eventually forcing him to betray her. Nami once more finds herself in prison, but this time she faces death by hanging.
This instalment takes the longest to really get going, but when it does (when the film eventually moves to the prison) it finishes strongly. The only episode not to be directed by Shunya Ito, it does feel like a forced entry to the series.
The film also drives home the fact that the series as a whole hasn't been very sympathetic towards the police, portraying them as generally violent and/or corrupt. However, in this episode the police officers' behaviour is despicable, starting with a flash-back in which we learn how Kudo ended up with a deformed penis! Even worse though is when they rape one of the prison guards in order to blackmail her in helping in achieving their revenge against Nami.
Walking a fine line between exploitation and art, the Female Prisoner Scorpion series is a superb slice of Japan Cinema, featuring an actress at her most iconic (lets not forget that Meiko Kaji was also Lady Snowblood!) and a director firing on all cylinders (Yasuharu Hasebe does a fair impression of the style). With a high content of violence against women, these films are still not for the faint hearted or easily offended but for everyone else there is much to enjoy here.
The box set includes 2K restorations of all four films and each film comes with a companion disc crammed with extras, from interviews with cast and crew to video essays by enthusiasts, film makers and critics alike.