Thursday, August 23, 2012

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (Shunya Ito, 1972)

Oh, red-haired bullies who briefly appear in Japanese exploitation movies from the early 1970s ("pink films," to be exact). Oh, how I wish I could periodically look down and watch the pathetic thrusts emanating from my equally pathetic pelvic region as they cause your ample backside to quiver, ripple, and undulate with a cushiony brand of ecstasy. Oops! It looks like I got a little head of myself. You know how you have all these important thoughts rolling around inside your brain, but all you can think about is what the pulsating pussy belonging to a disagreeable redhead might taste like if you were lucky enough to get the go ahead to take the poontang plunge? Well, it looks like that's what just happened. Instead of losing sleep over of it, try to view of a sort of sneak peek of the verbal debauchery to come. In meantime, let's celebrate one of the more in your face women in prison movies I have ever seen. The facial closeness that goes on in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (a.k.a. Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori) has a lot to do with the fact that every character, give or take a few, is pure evil. Wait a second. I don't know about that. I mean, "pure evil"? I don't think so. Most of the prisoners were basically just sheep. Okay, let me rephrase that. Every single male character, whether they were prison guards, cops, or gangsters were loathsome human beings. Oh, and if you're expecting our plucky heroine to get help from a man, oh, let's say, kindly prison doctor named Yoshi, well, you can forget about it, as Yoshi doesn't work at this prison. Random beatings, excessive hole digging, soup bathes (ladle me this, ladle me that, who's afraid of the big black vat of lumpy consommé?), wet blankets, excessive hole filling, industrial light bulb torture, and deranged redheads are what you can expect at this girl-stacked super jail. Which, I must say, out of all the women's correctional facilities I've seen depicted on film over the past couple of years, the unnamed dump featured in this flick, directed by Shunya Ito, is probably the worst cinematic hellhole I've ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Really? Worse than the prisons that appear in Bare Behind Bars, Chained Heat II and Ilsa, The Wicked Warden? Okay, I don't want to get into a debate with myself over which fictionalized prison has the worst living conditions. But as far as the lead characters going through hell, I think it's safe to say that Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) experiences some of the most heinous treatment I've ever seen inflicted on an inmate in a women in prison film. And to make matters worse, if that's even possible, the prison administration in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion are big fans of collective punishment. In other words, when the other prisoners are treated badly, they're repeatedly told the reason they're being treated so badly is because of Nami's insolence.
As you would expect, this causes feelings of resentment to bubble to surface amidst the prison population. This resentment starts to bubble almost immediately, as the film opens with Nami and her menstruating gal pal Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe) breaking out of prison. Running through a swampy field of ornamental grasses, Nami and Yuki are pursued by a throng of guards and a couple of German Shepherds. Eventually caught, just as she was about to picked off the ground, Nami throws the Warden (Fumio Watanabe) the first of her many angry, over the shoulder looks. You better get used to these vengeful glares, because you're about to see a lot of them employed over the next eighty or so minutes.
Treated to the sounds of "Urami-Bushi," as sung by Meiko Kaji, the opening credits feature naked prisoners being forced to transverse an awkward obstacle course as the perverted guards watch. Oh, and if the song, "Urami-Bushi," sounds familiar, that's because it was used in Kill Bill: Volume 2. I wasn't aware of this when I saw them in theatres, but apparently the Kill Bill movies are just a collection of images and sounds borrowed from other movies. Weird.
Unhappy with the fact that Nami and Yuki tried to escape, the Warden scolds his staff (each gets a slap in the face) and punishes the prisoners by taking away their food. The actual escapees are hog-tied and thrown in "the hole." It's during this sequence that I noticed that the prisoners in the blue smocks with the four white horizontal stripes running across the middle are directed by the prisoners in the orange smocks with the same four white horizontal stripes running across the middle. Meaning, the orange smock wearers are treated somewhat better than their blue smock-wearing cousins.  
After giving an orange smock wearer one of her trademark glares (she had poured her soup on the floor and put a wet blanket on her), we flashback to happier times when Nami and her narcotics officer boyfriend Sugimi (Isao Natsuyugi) were living the dream. Well, at least it seemed like they were the living the dream. Unfortunately, the dream turns into a nightmare for Nami when Sugimi uses her to bust a bunch of gangsters. Why, that doesn't sound so bad. They gang rape her on a glass floor. Oh. Waiting for him outside the police station, Nami attacks Sugemi with a knife in dramatic fashion.. Unsuccessful, Nami is charged with attempted murder and sent to prison.
I know I'm not supposed to feel this way, but I found myself falling for Masaki (Yôko Mihara) and Katagiri (Rie Yokoyama), the films two main bullies. Hey, man, they're wearing orange. Not cool. Yeah, I'm well aware of that. But there was something appealing about the way tormented the other inmates. It's weird, but I normally find myself rooting for the underdog in most movies. But when it comes to women in prison films, I'm always on the side of the bully. I don't know, I guess it's because the so-called heroines are usually stoic and self-righteous, and I'm not a big fan of those particular qualities. Truth be told, I will always choose demented and cruel over sane and virtuous. 
We get a great shot of the mildly chubby Masaki, the wiry Katagiri, and their orange pals sitting, laughing and planning evil schemes in a patch of geraniums. One of these schemes involves pouring soup on Nami, who is still tied up in the hole. But the unthinkable occurs when Nami manages to cause one of the orange smock wearers (don't worry, it wasn't Masaki or Katagirl) to spill hot, scalding soup all over herself. Despite the fact that Nami receives a severe beating from the guards as a result of the soup spilling incident, it was totally worth it. As they say, one orange smock wearer down, five more to go.
Even though you made it clear that Masaki and Katagiri weren't the one's scaled by the soup, aren't you worried that they will be the next to feel Nami's wrath? What are you kidding? They wouldn't harm Masaki or Katagiri, they're great characters who bring a lot of catty oomph to the proceedings. I mean, who wants to watch a woman who barely says a word glower at the people she intends to kill at a later date for an entire movie? I know I sure don't. No, Masaki and Katagiri have it made in the Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion shade. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they showed up in the sequels.
Speaking of Masaki and Katagiri, they're currently schooling a blue smock wearer in the art of dice. And not only that, Masaki is giving everyone  an unobstructed view of her white panties. It's almost as if she is saying, "These are my white panties. You got a problem with that"? Or, "These are my white panties. Any questions?" Or how 'bout this, "Ein schöner höschen! Bist du etwa eifersüchtig?" When a blue smock-wearing wearing bystander (Ougi Hiroko) points out that Masaki is cheating, the blue smocks and the orange smocks start to brawl with one another. Aw, man. It's looks like Masaki is getting her plump ass kicked. This does not bode well for us Masaki fans.
I'm somewhat hesitant to continue watching. But the film is giving me no choice. What do you mean? Two words: Shower scene! Since brute force doesn't seem to be their strong point, Masaki and Katagiri regroup and put forth a plan that involves planting contraband in the blue smock of the aforementioned bystander while she showers. Little do they know, but Nami is watching them scheme. I don't know what she did when they weren't looking, but the illegal item (some kind of shank) ends up in Masaki's orange smock (this does not bode well). Confused and justifibly enraged, Masaki starts to freak out when the guards begin harassing her. Noticing that Nami is giving her the stink-eye, Masaki concludes that she had something to do with this and rushes toward Nami in a topless rage (her infamous white panties are still hanging on for dear life).
Grabbing a shard of glass, Masaki attacks Nami as if she were in Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Suddenly, sadness starts to inundate my aura, as the Warden, who is currently wearing a large shard of glass in his right eye, begins to choke the life out of Masaki in the prison shower. We're only thirty-five minutes into the film, and I'm already crestfallen. Someone needs to make a women in prison film from the bully's perspective. I mean, I'm tired of having my spirit crushed by prison bullies who end up dying on me.
As we finish saying goodbye to Masaki, Female Prisoner #710: Scorpion enters what I like to call, "The Digging Period." Given a shovel, the prisoners are told to dig a hole. When the holes are plenty deep, they're told to fill them back up again. With Masaki gone, Katagiri is in charge of tormenting Nami. Except, she's instructed by a certain someone (Sugimi, I'm looking in your general direction) to not only torment her, but to straight-up "waste her."
Getting the cunnilingual upper hand during a staged lesbian encounter (a sexy redheaded dyke stoolie can't get enough of the scorpion's tongue), enduring "The Devil's Punishment" (a.k.a. hardcore hole digging), and managing to survive a prison riot (complete with torture, gang rape, and Trojan horse lunch cart tactics), Nami has proven that her over the shoulder glaring isn't merely for show; she's a woman on a mission.
If the movie I'm describing sounds bleak and depressing, it is. But all that agony and suffering pays off during the film's final third, as the film morphs from being a brutal women in prison film into a stylish revenge thriller. Now sporting a chic hat and a long black coat, Nami has some scores to settle. What's cool about this sequence is that each victim's face is bathed in green light just before they're dispatched by Nami. Even though I was on Team Masaki, and, to a lesser extent, Team Katagiri, for most of the film, I did get a fair amount of satisfaction watching the luminous Meiko Kaji stab and slice her way through the Tokyo underworld. Sure, we all know who she's saving for last, as the low level gangsters are getting their comeuppance, but the ending is no less bittersweet. A true classic of the genre. One that checks all the right boxes.

video uploaded by s701ani

Special thanks to ido (suffer for a world of silence) for nudging me toward this awesome women in prison/revenge film. And, of course, introducing me to Yôko Mihara, Rie Yokoyama and Meiko Kaji.


  1. YAY!

    This is an amazing film! This was really what established Kaji Meiko as a star. Her performance is the silent Nami is shattering.

    Its interesting, because it was her decision to play the Scorpion as glaring and stoic. The film is based on the 『さそり』("Sasori", "Scorpion") series of popular comics written and illustrated by Shinohara Tōru (篠原とおる). The poster at the top of your review is from the comic. The Nami character from the original series is foul mouthed and uses that combined with her withering wit to unhinge her opponents. Kaji didn't feel comfortable with swearing so much on camera, so she pitched the silent staring Sasori achetype to director Itō. Having read the original comic, I really feel like the film version character is more powerful and menacing. That's what I've read, anyway. Funny that she felt uncomfortable with foul language, but giving succulent young Katayama Yumiko a tongue lashing was ok. I'm glad she had her priorities straight.

    This was Itō Shunya (伊藤俊也) first film. His direction (the brutality, nihilist, surrealistic flourishes where reality just dissolves) really makes this stand out from the pack of yakuza and exploitation films that overcrowded 1970s Japan.

    I'm going to be honest. I think your choices of Mihara Yōko and Yokoyama Rie were odd. Yes, they were very catty and naughty and showed their panties, but I was drawn in by the silent chaotic vacuum of Kaji's Nami. Words can't even begin to describe how I feel about her performance in this film. Pure searing chaos shining black into nothing.

    I also loved the lean, tough, yet graceful elegance that Ougi Hiroko (扇ひろこ) brought to her role as Shindō. She was an established actress of film and television, and also one of the most popular enka (演歌, "enka", style of folk songs popular in the mid 20th century) singers of her day. Not just some "blue smocking wearing bystander". Don't get seduced by the beguiling chub and panties, son. Release yourself and dive into the deep, dark depths of graceful beauty that is Ougi Hiroko.

    Oh, and Watanabe Yayoi (渡辺やよい), who played Yuki, gets special note for her shovel work.

    As a special bonus, here are two compilation albums by Kaji Meiko. They feature the title song from this film. Both compile mostly singles and EPs she released in the 70s and are in the enka genre. Her voice is ok for enka, and the songs are enjoyable.

    1) Meiko Kaji compilation:
    2) Meiko Kaji- Complete Works:

  2. Your knowledge pertaining to Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is quite impressive. What am I saying? It's off the fucking charts. I, on the other hand, am just a humble garbageman. ;)

    Out of all the promotional material I came across for this film, the comic book illustration was my absolute favourite; great image.

    Okay, so Ougi Hiroko played the blue smock-wearing bystander; the credits I used as a reference were woefully incomplete.

    Even though you disagree with where my Female Prisoner-based allegiances went (mmmm, chubby chicks in white cotton panties), I still must thank you for your recommendation and thoughtful comment. :)

  3. By the way, I updated my own lazy-ass blog with a companion piece for this post. I should have been working.

  4. Your review is funny and entertaining, though I'm with Ido: Meiko Kaji is the reason to see this! She's incredible. And the shower scene is unforgettable!

    Personally, this is one of my favorite WIP movies and I've seen a fair amount (most are not very good). Did you ever see the 3 sequels with Kaji? (The series continued without her for at least 20 years)

  5. You need to review the sequel 『女囚さそり:第41雑居房』(Joshū Sasori: Dai 41 Zakkyobō, "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41"). Same director and also staring Kaji Mieko. Its calling to you in oppressed, lilting tones.