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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".
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.
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
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 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".
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.
The film starts as it means to go on; first we get a prison break that sees two prisoners hunted down and caught by the ruthless prison guards, and the next scene sees a bunch of naked women being directed about by said prison guards. There is not as much sleaze in this film as there is in my other women in prison flicks, but there's more than enough - and the fact that it doesn't go over the top means that the sleaze we do get is far more potent. The film is also rather gory, and although much of the violence is in a comic book style, seeing the blood spill is still a treat. The film features some stunning cinematography, and director Shunya Ito is obviously keen to get the art-house style across as much as possible. There's also several excellently shot sequences; the scene involving a disgruntled inmate rampaging through the showers with a shard of glass being particularly excellent. It's all topped off by a sensational performance by Meiko Kaji in the lead role, and overall; it has to be said that Female Convict Scorpion is a masterpiece that does not deserve to be missed!
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."
This is essentially a revenge tale peppered with gore, heavy nudity and some almost surreal moments which showcase the high production value this film had going for it. All kinds of weird colors and gruesome deaths find their way into this film, with Meiko Kaji's awesome theme song "Urami bushi" playing on top of it all. This is a highly imaginative and entertaining WiP film and one of the best Japanese exploitation films.
Amazingly, amidst so much gritty, dirty stuff, the film still has an artistic flourish, such as the loss of the heroine's virginity symbolized with a Japanese flag. What the message is, I do not know, but it is visually striking. We also have color-coded uniforms, which make it easy to tell the "good" guys from the "bad" guys and add an interesting balance.
For those less interested in the art and technique, and more interested in the exploitation aspect, they will be happy to know that there is plenty in the way of shower scenes... if you want to see a few dozen naked women scrubbing each other, you probably won't be disappointed.
Arrow Video has released this film and its first three sequels in a box set. I commend them for this and love the effort that went into the special features. Unfortunately, the picture looks really washed-out. Knowing Arrow, they were working with the best materials possible, so this may mean that a good-looking negative ceases to exist (or perhaps never did).
Matsu (#701) is in jail for attempted murder after her cop boyfriend feeds her to the yakuza to get raped so he can bust them and get a promotion. While in jail, she receives abuse both from the prison guards and a five female inmate gang. She puts up with the abuse for one sole purpose - revenge.
The violence is hard-hitting and well-handled, and the pacing picks up towards the climax for some satisfyingly vengeful mayhem. I think my favourite sequence is the one where a rival prisoner goes crazy; the sequence is shot with the lighting of a lurid horror tale and ends with a scene of startling violence. Meiko Kaiji deserves plaudits for her intense turn as Matsu the Scorpion, and would dominate the 1970s with leads in this series as well as the LADY SNOWBLOOD and STRAY CAT ROCK franchises.
Prisoner #701 is played by Meiko Kaji, a beautiful woman who's facial expressions tend to say more than words ever could. It's one of the many brilliant aspects of this first installment, making me crave for more and more. I'm not thát familiar with Japanese exploitation but the differences with comparable western films seem obvious from the very first second.
It has an unique vibe, mainly created by the eye-catching camera- work and well chosen settings and backgrounds. It has some sleazy and straight forward content but it's brought with a huge amount of personal flair which makes it impossible not to love every second of it. It's pinky violence at it's best.
The soundtrack is quite special as Kaji sings the main theme ''Song of Vengeance'' herself. It's a nice personal touch and it works enchanting. Her strength carries on for the entire ride, seeking for vengeance while undergoing heavy torture and sometimes returning the favor. The authority makes life as miserable as it can get while the female prisoners also have their own personal problems.
It leads to multiple climax's which all seem to have their own appeal. The hostage scene can not be compared with the (quite random) lesbian scene, but both of them are roughly as good as one another. They just have a different purpose. I've seen so many original angels, crazy 360 shots and plenty of other cool stuff to keep the film visually entertaining. I'd say the broken glass scene in the shower is the best example, it blew me away!
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion turned out even better than I could've expected. Combining a simple revenge plot with a W.I.P setting with great acting, an amazing personal flair and fitting music. It's a complete package and I can only hope for the rest to be as good as this remarkable gem.
This is the 1st of the Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion series (I had actually watched it backwards from 4 to 1), and it shows how the "Scorpion" ended up in prison and how hard she is. The Scorpion is HARD.
The movie has all the prison exploitation themes, sadistic guards, naked prisoners, mean prisoners, torture etc. But it also has the Scorpion; imagine Cool Hand Luke but who does not talk, with no humour, a willingness and readiness to kill/injure/maim her tormentors and a single mindedness quest for vengeance. Meiko Kaji (actress) is more widely known for her Lady Snowblood character and movies but IMO her Scorpion Character is way more awesome.
I recommend this movie just so you have a lead up to the second movie Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 which is a MUST watch.
Based on the Sasori manga comics of Tōru Shinohara the first of these is titled Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and tells the story of Nami 'Matsu' Matsushima (played by Meiko Kaji, who would later take the title role in the similarly revenge themed Lady Snowblood series) who is sent to jail after attempting to stab the police officer who first seduced her, before using her to implement a sting that resulted in her being raped. The film follows Matsu as she attempts to escape from prison in order to enact her revenge on those who betrayed her whilst at the same time surviving altercations with fellow prisoners and guards alike.
This series was funded by the Toei Company, notorious for their own particular brand of 'Pinky Films' known as 'Pinky Violence Films'. These contained all the nudity and soft-core sex synonymous with the Pinky films but as the title would suggest, with lashings of violence complementing the nudity. Just at the films of the New Hollywood were a response to the advent of television, attempting to get viewers back to the movie houses via increasingly experimental and exploitative films so too were these and Female Prisoner can be seen as one of the best example of this genre.
First time director Shunya Ito (who would later earn himself an Oscar nomination for his 1985 film Gray Sunset) brings a great deal of stylistic flair to his debut, there are sets where the walls revolve as in theatre to reveal new surroundings, certain scenes are shot through a glass floor so we can see Matsu's face as she lies face down on the ground following her abuse, and all the while there is the expressive use of lighting with bright greens and reds dictating the tone of the scene. In one sequence another inmate attempts to stab Matsu whilst in the showers. As the fight progresses and the assailant becomes more enraged suddenly her hair begins to stand on end, the lighting turns blue and her makeup turns to one of the face masks seen in traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre. Jump cuts are also evident throughout, a technique the Nouvelle Vague had only unveiled in the previous decade, and directors such as Scorsese were beginning to make their trademark at the same time. With all this experimentation the film works well as an art house alternative to the women in prison films people such as Roger Corman were producing in America, with Kaji proving herself to be every bit the equal of Pam Grier.
Indeed it is Kaji's performance that carries the film. Despite her literary counterpart being extremely vocal and foul mouthed, Kanji convinced Ito to break away from this and allow her to give a primarily silent performance at Matsu, with the her cold stare conveying more hatred for her enemies than the shouting of obscenities ever could. The most play Kaji's vocals get for the films duration is in the film's title song 'Urami Bushi' also known as 'My Grudge Blues' a haunting number sang by Kaji herself. Ever desperate to shoehorn in as many references and allusions as possible, Tarantino would later feature the song on the soundtrack to Kill Bill(during the Lady Snowblood styled fight scene no less).
Ito and Kaji would work together on a further two films in this series, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972) and Female Prisoner 701: Beast Stable (1973) both of which maintain the original's acute sense of style whilst remarkably managing to increase the amount of violence and nudity, every bit the equal to the original they never feel forced as many sequels do and are a worthy continuation of Matsu's search for vengeance. As evidenced in many of the other great films of the decade such as Taxi Driver and Suspiria- when art house aesthetics are combined with exploitation narratives, the result is something extraordinary in its own right. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is one such film, far greater than the slew of comic adaptations around today and definitely worthy of greater attention that it receives.
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Meiko Kaji portrays Matsu, the other female trying to escape who will not bend to the Warden and apologize for trying to flee. He will try various ways to snap her impressive will. Something deep within, a quiet rage and longing hatred that fuels her unprecedented survival that would break the common person.
The one providing that fuel is a former flame, Sugimi(Isao Natsuyagi)who is a corrupt narcotics officer in bed with a Yakuza crime family(dealing in marijuana). Sugimi used Matsu, who loved him wholeheartedly, to "infiltrate" the Yakuza family's den by way of a sting operation. She suffers a brutal rape, but that doesn't even match the betrayal of her love by Sugimi. She tries to gain retribution with an attack(using a butcher knife)on Sugimi, but is arrested and sent to prison where Matsu wiles away the time brimming with this unnerving will to make it through any turmoil that comes her way just for that moment when Sugimi's blood will be soaking in her hands.
Matsu's trials at surviving the prison is well documented in this film as the Warden will continue time and again to try and break her stronghold of silence. He has a cook torment her in a dingy solitary, but Matsu, through uncanny cunning, causes the winch to trip and fall with a big pot of steaming rice splashing her in the face. The Warden sends his guards in to bury her with stick beatings(not to mention shots to her body with thrusting kicks). The Warden even tries a female spy who becomes her lesbian slave in a hilarious scenario. But, his final solution is to have Matsu(and the other female convicts)dig a massive hole and then fill it..night and day just for his hated rival to break. When tragedy strikes, a revolt ensues with guards being kidnapped and held hostage. Another element in the film is Sugimi's fear because as long as Matsu's alive, his partnership with the Yakuza stands in jeopardy. He coerces a convict, Katagiri(Rie Yokoyama)to assassinate her on the inside making it appear like an accident. The revolt that ensues gives her opportunity to possibly do just that.
Will Matsu survive the prison torture and get her revenge? That question will get it's answer. Ito frames this film with lots of style and imaginative camera set-ups. He never lets the film drag and it is always exciting with excellent pacing. Ito really doesn't let the film ever ground itself realistically and plays with wild ideas such as the marvelously deranged sequence where the Warden gets his eye stabbed by a female convict trying to hurt Matsu(her face is in full Kabuki regalia with the bright light pointing out her unhinged desire to kill Matsu whatever the cost).
Meiko Kaji plays Nami Matsushima, a beautiful woman who is viciously gang-raped after her lover, Sugimi, a corrupt cop, convinces her to go undercover to help him bust a gang of drug dealers. When it becomes clear to Nami that she was merely a pawn in Sugumi's plan to help the Yakuza (by ridding them of their competition), she seeks revenge and unsuccessfully attacks her loathsome loveran act that ends her up in prison, where she becomes the target of both a sadistic warden and a female prisoner turned assassin.
Just like any self-respecting Western W.I.P. flick, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion contains plenty of nudity, sadistic guards, equally sadistic inmates, and the obligatory lesbian sex scene (when Matsushima seduces a policewoman posing as a fellow prisoner). This being a Japanese movie from the 70s, however, the result is far more pleasing aesthetically, catering not only for drooling sleaze-hounds, but also for those with an eye for a well framed image. The film's cinematography is superb, with several moments being quite beautiful to beholdin particular, a post-riot sunset which turns the whole screen blood red (quite apt, seeing as the scene immediately prior to this features the film's bloodiest moment: a guard gets his head split open with a spade resulting in a geyser of blood spraying into the air).
Towards the end, when an escaped Matsushima eventually hunts down the men who raped her and once again tries to kill Sugimi, the film does tend to drag a little (I wanted revenge to come a little swifter than it actually did), but this is a minor quibble with what is a very well crafted piece of exploitation.
7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.