Female Prisoner #701 - Scorpion
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Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion is a woman who was set up to take a fall. Wrongfully imprisoned, she is absolutely hell bent on getting back at those who betrayed her. Meanwhile, she must survive the treachery of imprisonment and the wickedness of an evil warden before she can achieve her vengeance outside the prison walls.
About the Actor
Meiko Kaji is a Japanese actress and singer. She has appeared in about 100 films, with her most famous roles being outlaw characters in early 1970s films, such as the rebels of the Stray Cat Rock series, the assassin Lady Snowblood, or the murderous Sasori from the Female Convict 701: Scorpion series. (Wikipedia)See all Editorial Reviews
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
NOTE: Apparently, there is an issue associated to subtitling, as has been referred by other reviewers. I had no problem whatsoever, but I would add that the film would not play with the correct aspect ratio of 2:35:1 in my American DVD player. I did have to watch the film in my Region Free player, and I did not experience any problems.
These events are actually told in a flashback early on. The movie itself begins with Matsu, as she is usually called in the prison, and fellow inmate Yuki, attempting to escape. They are caught, however, and put in individual cells where they lie tied up on the ground, at the mercy of the guards and the no less sadistic prison trustees. As the head of the wardens uses the occasion to impose punishment on all inmates, the resentment against Matsu grows among the women just as her resilience and silent stubbornness only serve to infuriate the prison wardens even further as all their attempts to break her fail. As tension escalates, only compounded by Sugimi's scheme to have Matsu assassinated by fellow inmate Katagiri, it isn't difficult to tell that the situation is about to get out of hand....
The plot isn't the movie's strongest point, although it is decent enough and does work adequately as the background layer on which the more interesting and successful aspects of the movie are laid. Firstly, it is, undeniably, a feast for the eyes. Pinky movies were typically done on a shoestring budget, and here it shows, but somehow Ito manages to transcend that and make it a strength, rather than a hindrance: the scene of Nami's first time and the transition to the sting operation are great examples of that as it tells you all you need: a four-posted bed and candles would hardly have made more of the scene
It is hard also to believe it was Ito's first movie: no scene is left to waste. At every turn, he will find an angle or come up with a device to turn every moment of this movie into as many visual pearls, helped in that by the excellent cinematography of Nakazawa Hanjiro. Every shot is powerful and what's more, many of them do add to the story, instead of just being exercises in style, even if some might seem absurd, particularly the first time around: that's true of the more psychedelic visuals (the "transformation" of Nami into Scorpion as she lies on the floor) just as much as it is of those which transcend time (trustee Masaki who, in her rage, ironically resembles a Kabuki character; interestingly, this reference to traditional Japanese theatre will be taken one step further in "Jailhouse 41")
Another great strength of the director is his ability to simultaneously embrace the Pinky genre, all the while turning many of its concepts on their heads(once very literally as the scene unfolds upside down). Most WiP standards are present which is to be expected: after all, as it is exactly what the Toei wanted. But they never quite turn out to be what one could expect. Sadistic wardens also turn out to be impotent, their batons having to substitute for their sexes when they hurl abuse at Matsu. On the other hand, when given a chance, the prisoners will have little problem to collectively abuse their jailers by using their bodies, in an almost surreal scene: joyous, with the women not in on the action rhythmically chanting and moving their feet and arms, mimicking what could pass for a ritual dance of old. It all comes in complete contrast with the scene of Nami's rape by the Yakuza gang: very subdued, shot from under Nami's shoulders as she lies on a transparent, glass-like surface. All we see are the grotesque expressions on the yakuzas' faces but that's exactly what makes the scene all the more disturbing and stand out
Of course, for the movie to be at all credible, you'd need an able actress in the titular role. Luckily, Kaji is not just an able actress. In fact, her performance goes beyond the notions of "bad" and "good". She just owns the role completely, managing to make it appealing to both men - her undeniable beauty and sex-appeal - and women - as an avenger of all the wrongs society have committed, and continues to commit, against us. You therefore cannot help but forgive the director for including her in just about every scene, and for the many, many close-ups on her face, and most importantly, her gaze. Matsu never speaks much, although she does utter a few sentences (much more than in the following installment in the series), but her eyes do all the talking, making her presence menacing even though she's, after all, a slender woman without extraordinary physical strength. Her only power lies in her resilience and ability to set her goals and withstand what she has to in order to get there
There are many more aspects of this movie that would deserved to be discussed and expended upon, in particular the implications regarding Japanese society, and, to some extent, developed countries' societies as a whole, in the 70s and beyond: the use and abuse of women as a work- and life force, their instrumentalization (the stain of blood on the white sheet, a result of Nami's defloration, taking the shape of the Japanese flag before becoming diformed, related to the Japanese flag floating at the beginning and conclusion of the movie and to the banner outside the building at the top of which seat the Yakuza boss and Sugimi); the development of post-war, industrial society as one devoid of humanity, and which ultimately "devours" those that make it (forced-labor consisting of repetitively digging the ground only to fill the holes again right after; the symbolic burial of Matsu by the other inmates when she stands alone in the trench)
But at the end of the day, "Female Prisoner #701 - Scorpion" is more about an experience for the senses and the mind than it is about words. It is definitely not suitable for children, and the faint of heart may want to give it a miss too. As for everyone else, don't let its Pinky/WiP affiliation fools you, although it is in part the very use - and diversion - of the codes of the genre that makes it both a delectable guilty pleasure and a great and unique movie
PS: this review is based on the French box set where the contrast has definitely been increased compared to the original Japanese transfer. It does results in a slight loss of details in dark or bright scenes and I would guess some of the colors are deeper and more vibrant than initially intended, but it is very pleasant nonetheless. I've had the occasion to see the version presented on this page and the DVD transfer is solid, which is to be expected considering it's the original one from the Toei. There is some ghosting issue though, which comes as a surprise. Sound is the original mono for both version, which is probably a good thing, and in both cases, subtitles are adequate. Not much in terms of extras but that doesn't really come as a surprise, and this movie doesn't need them
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