Saturday, 9 October 2010

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)

Produced by the Toei Company in 1972, Shunya Ito’s directorial debut Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a demented twist on the women-in-prison genre that was a significant influence of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.

Betrayed by her bent cop boyfriend Sugumi who set her up to infiltrate a drug cartel that he was collaborating with, Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) finds herself doing a stretch after a failed attempt at revenge on Sugumi on the steps of police headquarters. Her single-minded determination to escape and exact revenge on Sugumi becomes her sole reason for existence. Abortive attempts at escape infuriate the prison authorities as well as Matsu’s fellow prisoners who are punished for her misdemeanours, including food rationing and what is referred to as The Devil’s Punishment (which just seems to be digging holes, filling them up and then having to re-dig them!)

All attempts to break Matsu fail - whether being chained up in solitary, having hot soup poured over her face, being beaten and sexually abused by the guards or seduced by female prison guards posing as prisoners! She stoically and silently keeps her mind focused on the only thing that will bring her satisfaction – the death of Sugumi!

Tiring of their treatment at the hands of the sadistic warden and his guards the inmates revolt, led by Katagirl who has by now been solicited by Sugumi to kill Matsu in exchange for her freedom. One of the prisoners’ demands is for Matsu to be delivered to them and once inside the warehouse Matsu is hogtied, suspended from the ceiling, viciously beaten and burnt by a spotlight that she is also sexually violated with!

Finally escaping from the prison in the confusion caused when the prison guards storm the warehouse to end the siege Matsu makes her way to Tokyo, ready for her showdown with Sugumi!

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion was made at a time when the Japanese film industry was developing a style of cinema that incorporated high levels of sex and violence that would become renowned as pinky violence. Meiko Kaji was no stranger to such cinema having starred in several of Nikkatsu studios Alleycat Rock series before playing Matsu on three further occasions and graduating to the titular role in the Lady Snowblood films. Uttering no more than half a dozen lines of dialogue throughout the movie Kaji’s iconic portrayal as the ice maiden assassin that would kill you just as soon as kiss you is a benchmark of Japanese exploitation cinema.

At less than 90 minutes Ito’s debut effort is a fast moving and brutal movie that speeds through the essential ingredients of a classic women-in-prison flick. But not only will you find copious nudity, gratuitous shower scenes, lesbianism and girl-on-girl violence in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, you’ll also discover Ito’s flair for directing some mesmerising and almost psychedelic set pieces, including Matsu’s pre-prison flashbacks and Masaki’s pursuit of Matsu in the prison showers culminating in the stabbing of the governor! And if you think this is a crazy film, just wait til you’ve checked out the sequel – Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41!

Rob Bewick

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