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The "Women in prison" film is a subgenre with a nasty reputation and a
devoted fanbase. Usually it's nudity and cruelty galore with a plot
barely thin enough to veil the only reason to watch the film is to see
the sadist and lesbian (or possibly the lesbian sadist) scenes. Whereas
it's true that there are a few good prison films, most of them are only
in it for the exploitation. Which is not necessarily a bad point: after
all, most blockbusters are only in it for the explosions.
My first Female Convict movie was "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41". Purchased as it was released in a series of cult films, most of them were excellent enough to convince you to buy the ones you'd never heard of. To my disappointment the movie turned out to be a sequel, the second film in a series of four starring the ravishing Meiko Kaji as Prisoner 701. One year later Kaji would star as Lady Snowblood in the eponymous films that 'influenced' Tarantino quite a lot whilst shooting "Kill Bill". The Female Prisoner tune "Urami Bushi", written by the director and sung by Kaji, was used in both Kill Bill volumes.
Shunya Ito, director of Female Prisoner 701, directed only 8 movies in 26 years, surprisingly few if compared to the output of other Japanese directors such as Koji Wakamatsu and Seijun Suzuki or if you look at the visual flair displayed in Ito's films. Three out of the eight movies were Female Convict films.
If you haven't seen a W.I.P. (women in prison) film before or don't like the edgier films, "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41" (the second one) is the one to go for. It's the most regular film of the series: most of the sequel takes place out of the prison and follows a group of escaped convicts who try to stay away from the guards who're chasing them. It may still be an exploitation film, but it's not really a W.I.P. film. But never mind your difficulty to find a label for the film: just file it under 'good'.
"Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion", the first film, is definitely exploitation, though it must be said it's a classy exploitation film. Sure, the film may start with an escape attempt by Matsu (Kaji) and another prisoner, but one doesn't have to look further than the titles to see this is exploitation cinema: naked women running up and down stairs whilst being watched by guards. But whereas there are a few traditional exploitation scenes (and some of those are pretty nasty), the film never gets tacky.
Visually a masterpiece (impressive visuals and sets), a strong lead, an excellent director, beautiful settings... this is one of the best exploitation films you'll get to see. If you are too afraid to venture into the dark waters of exploitation cinema, watch the sequel first. You won't know why Matsu is seen as such a threat to the prison or why she's imprisoned, but apart from these details you won't be deprived from an enjoyable ride and find yourself hungry to see the other three films. And if you dare, go straight to "Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion".
Violent, sick, cruel, and completely sadistic what more could I ask for? Starring Meiko Kaji, who would go on to the Lady Snowblood films the next year, this women in prison movie simply dazzles. Ito's direction is fantastic, and in some ways resembles that of Suzuki Seijun. It's funny that such great filmmaking is found in a w.i.p. movie, a sub-genre usually reserved for sloppy, direct-to-video work today. Just think, a direct-to-video movie really could be well made. There is an unfulfilled market here. Yet people just keep cranking out the same cliched garbage an utter waste. The genre in America is too tame when you look at FP701. Actually, I'd almost say that this comes close to being the best prison movie ever made, approaching masterpieces like Don Siegel's undervalued Riot in Cell-Block 11 and Stuart Rosenberg's beloved Cool Hand Luke. Hell, Prisoner 701 makes Cool Hand Luke look like a total pussy. This movie is an absolute must-see for those who love Japanese films, exploitation, or cult movies in general. I'd go so far as to call it a masterpiece in its own way. I loved every damn second of it! 10/10.
Great Japanese exploitation story featuring the incomparable Kaji Meiko ("Lady Snowblood"). Excellent cinematography and use of set pieces as well as exaggerated angles and lighting. As enjoyable as this film is, it's not the best in the series... the second chapter, also directed by Ito Shunya and starring Kaji Meiko ("Joshuu sasori: Dai-41 zakkyo-bô", aka "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41") is a transcendent piece of filmmaking and eclipses the first film in every regard: cinematography, locations, acting, script, and music.
I'm really starting to love this era in Japanese exploit film-making.
As of this writing I've only seen slightly more than a handful of these
films, but they all tend to be top-notch. I end up saying the same
things about all of them, and FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION is not much
different - excellent sets, interesting and deep story lines, good
acting, beautiful camera-work - all the sorts of things that you
wouldn't expect to see in an exploitation film, but the Japanese did it
consistently in those days spawning plenty of truly excellent trash
The FEMALE PRISONER in question is a nice girl who just had a run of bad luck. Her scumbag boyfriend is an overly ambitious cop who uses her as bait in trying to bust a crime ring. When the bust goes to hell, the criminals and the ever chivalrous boyfriend/cop make a deal to hang homegirl out to dry. She ends up in jail and after a failed jailbreak, is abused in all kinds of fun and sleazy ways. A riot eventually ensues in the jail and this time our heroine makes it out to seek revenge on the man who scorned her...
I have to honestly say that FEMALE PRISONER is not quite as compelling and "beautiful" as say, LADY SNOWBLOOD (who is also played by our leading lady in this film...), or maybe SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST, but it is still a very enjoyable, artfully sleazy film that definitely holds up on it's own. Recommended to fans of any Japanese exploit/pinky film - this one won't disappoint. 8.5/10
Uttering as few words as possible, Nami Matsushima (played by the
stunningly beautiful Meiko Kaji) dispenses with the pleasantries and
builds a reasonably impressive body count by the end of "Female
Prisoner 701: Scorpion," one of the premiere films in the women's
prison genre of films.
Natsuyagi is a cop looking to move ahead in his life, and money, after all, is the root of all evil. He hatches a scheme to use his lovely girlfriend, Nami, to lure the local mafia bosses into a scheme. But when the gang feels something's amiss, they escort Nami into a back room and rape her. Breaking in, Natsuyagi realizes he finally has what he wants: ignoring his fallen girlfriend, he convinces the mob that he can make all of their problems go away if they pay him off. They agree, and Natsuyagi has Nami thrown into prison where she undergoes the obligatory beatings, teasing, and other forms of degradation so common to 'girls behind bars' films.
What makes "Scorpion" different is the fact that Director Shunya Ito in his debut film decided to ride the fine line between art and trash. He combines the best elements of the vindictive woman's feature along with artsy lighting in order to achieve the effect of a car crash: the viewer really hates to slow down and watch, but there really must be something to see here, right? The violence is gratuitous, if not psychedelic, at times, but it all manages to flesh out (pun intended) before Nami manages to finally break out of prison and go on her murderous rampage, taking out the mobsters one-by-one until her final showdown with the unsuspecting Natsuyagi.
Also, in Kaji's graceful hands, Nami isn't so much a victim as she is an antihero, not at all unlike Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. The viewer is pulled into this world by means of a very beautiful woman who refuses to be a 'prisoner' to the genre. Instead, she's defiant and calculating at every turn, refusing to comply with the warden's demands of good behavior. She challenges every authority, instituting her own code of justice which applies to everyone: her fellow inmates, the prison guards, and even the police outside. Uncompromising in her dedication, she ignores the acts she endures for the sake of focusing on one sole objective: revenge.
and that's an act she takes with complete seriousness.
A beautiful young woman is double-crossed by her corrupt cop boyfriend,
raped by his Yakuza thug associates, and then--to add insult to
injury--unjustly sentenced to a brutal women's prison. She becomes
increasingly stoical, however, biding her time until she can have her
revenge on all her enemies both in and out of prison.
This is an enjoyable movie which manages to be both a WIP film and a rape-revenge film. It's also probably the best of the "Female Scorpion" series because it focuses more on the WIP elements while the later films are mostly rape-revenge (or eventually just revenge)movies. To be honest, I've never quite gotten the appeal of these female action movies. While some of their fans are female, the vast majority are men, and it's beyond me the masochistic thrill these guys get out of the "butt-kickin' babe"(personally I prefer women that do NOT beat me up, shoot me, or run me through with a samurai sword). Meiko Kaji's Female Scorpion character is in a class by herself though in that her strength comes not so much from her ability to dish out extreme punishment as to quietly endure it until she has a chance to turn the tables. The epitome of this is when she is she is strung up by the other prisoners (quite naked of course) and tortured with hot lamp bulb--Ouch!
This is also the only film in the series where Meiko has nude scenes. They're pretty tame by WIP standards, but there are plenty of other naked Japanese girls (if you're into that sort of thing)including in one hilarious scene where the female prisoner "rape" a couple of male prison guards during a riot (poor bastards!). It's a matter of taste I guess, but I liked this better than the more famous "Lady Snowblood" (also with Kaji) and definitely better than "Kill Bill".
Shunya Ito's "Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori" aka "Female Prisoner #701:
Scorpion" of 1972 is an absolutely brilliant masterpiece of Japanese
Exploitation cinema that is not quite comparable to anything else. The
WIP (Women In Prison) sub-genre may have brought a bunch of highly
entertaining flicks, but each of the four "Sasori" films (all of which
were released between 1972 and 1973) outshines any other movie of the
kind by a million times. Not only does "Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori", or
"Sasori: Scorpion" as it is entitled here, outshine any other kind of
WIP flick, this is one of the films that reign supreme in Exploitation
cinema generally. More than any other movie, this film combines
Exploitation and Art-house cinema, sleaze and artistic beauty in a most
unique way. The absolutely divine Meiko Kaji is the star of this
unforgettable film and nobody else could have played the leading role
of Nami Matsushima aka. Sasori with such brilliance. Not only does she
play the lead, Meiko Kaji also sings the beautiful theme song to this
film, one of the greatest and most memorable pieces of Japanese film
score ever, "Urami-Bushi", which became known to a wider Western
audience when Tarantino used it for the soundtrack of "Kill Bill 2".
Raped, imprisoned tortured and abused, female prisoner #701, Nami Matsushima lives only for two things, escape from the hellhole of a woman's prison she is incarcerated in, and revenge on her former lover, who used her for his benefit and is responsible for all her misery. Due to her toughness and power of endurance, Nami, who is constantly tortured by sadistic guards in order to break her will, is referred to as "Sasori" ("Scorpion") by her fellow female prisoners...
The stunningly beautiful Meiko Kaji, one of my personal favorite actresses of all-time, plays her role with sheer brilliance. Sasori, who hardly says a word has an incomparably vengeful determination in her eyes, and Kaji's performance seems to become greater each time I see this movie. The rest of the performances are also outstanding, above all Riye Yokoyama, who is excellently sadistic as Katagiri, another female prisoner who hates Sasori, and Fumio Watanbe as the sadistic prison warden Goda. "Sasori" truly is an absolute exploitation highlight, and probably THE movie in which exploitation and art-house elements complement each other the most. The opening sequence, in which hundreds of naked women have to walk down a narrow hallway in a humiliating exercise (to the song "Urami-Bushi") alone is the best example for that, and furthermore one of the most memorable sequences ever in exploitation cinema. This movie is sleazy and often extremely brutal, with nasty scenes of rape, murder and sadistic torture, and yet so incomparably beautiful and often symbolic in its extreme violence and sleaze. The entire "Sasori" series with Meiko Kaji reigns supreme in the WIP sub-genre, and is a truly brilliant highlight of Japanese Exploitation cinema. Every fan of Exploitation and every lover of film in general MUST SEE this first "Sasori" film and personal favorite of mine, which easily deserves the highest rating of 10/10!
This first installment in the Sasori (scorpion) series featuring Kaji
Meiko and is much more of a exploitation movie than the follow up. That
means girls running around naked in punishment for whatever lack of
discipline and getting raped by idiot prison guards.
Showing the making of Matsu the vengeful prisoner, we understand her motives quite well and it turns out to be a dense action movie.
In the end though this is more or less a display of sadistic torture in both a campy way and a more artistic way. As such it is not quite my cup of tea.
Kaji Meiko is not as developed as an actress as in her later movies here, but still puts up a good show, and a brilliant antihero although inferior to the more psychedelic Jailhouse #41 follow up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think there's a lot of fellow film fans out there who have no time for snooty snooze-fests like the films of Ingmar Bergman or any of those "inspirational tales of redemption" that people like Roger Ebert want to shove down our throat, but are far too intelligent to sit through the vast piles of pumped-out schlock that people find a way to appreciate. So when a film can be equally artful and entertaining, it's a reason to rejoice. If you love Lynch's Wild at Heart, or Miike's genre work, like Dead or Alive, I cannot recommend Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion enough. The structure of the film is pure rape-revenge exploitation and women in prison boobfest, but the acting and directing elevate this into the realm of truly great films. While the camera-work throughout is disorientingly perfect, scenes like the shard-of-glass fight scene prove Shunya Ito is truly masterful. Even a throwaway scene like upper tier prisoners putting on lipstick and discussing Matsu's fate is made surreal and psychedelic by the truly bizarre sound effects. Meiko Kaji in the lead carries the defiance and cold eroticism of her character perfectly. I actually think Chan Wook Park's choice of the lead for his recent Sympathy for Lady Vengeance had something to do with her resemblance to Kaji. Apparently that's her singing in the theme song too. Gotta check out Lady Snowblood. Much of the violence in this film is truly cringe-worthy, and I mean in the good way. It's effective because it makes you uncomfortable. I'd also like to clarify, my understanding of Matsu's betrayal is that she was sent by her Narc boyfriend as bait, as he knew that she'd be found out and raped, so he'd have the blackmail he needed to form an alliance with the drug dealers. If seeing him drop money on her after the deal is cut isn't enough for you to root for her revenge, the endless torture she suffers in prison will be. I'd give this 10 if it weren't for a couple of things, the digging scene is overly long, although that probably has more to do with the script Ito was given to work with, and I've heard the sequel is even better. Still, if you like any of Park's revenge trilogy, Miike films, Kurosawa's Yojimbo or the works of Dario Argento and George Romero, do yourself a favor and watch Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion.
Shunya Ito's debut film hits all the genre highlights of your standard
Babes Behind Bars flick, but does it so much better than any other
exploitation pic of the era.
Action queen Meiko Kaji stars the unbreakable "Scorpion." Betrayed by her slimy police detective lover Sugimi (Isao Natsuyagi), she winds up in a brutal prison run by the evil bureaucrat Goda (every directors favorite badguy Fumio Watanabe) where she endures tortures that would have reduced Cool Hand Luke to jelly in about five minutes.
A solid cast, excellent direction and occasionally brilliant cinematography make this perhaps the second best W.I.P. movie ever made. For the best, you'll have to see the sequel, "Jailhouse 41."
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