Spotlight on Japan: Female Prisoner #701 – Scorpion

I have to admit I’ve been quite ignorant about exploitation films for a long time now – even the Japanese sort. The Stray Cat Rock films managed to make me interested in this peculiar kind of cinema and I felt obliged to watch more films starring Meiko Kaji. The natural place to start with her filmography is with either Lady Snowblood or the famous “Scorpion” films in which she plays a tough prisoner in an overtly cruel prison with both guards and prisoners hating her. In the first part of the franchise, Shunya Ito’s Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Kaji is Nami – an innocent girl betrayed by a twisted narcotics agent and sent to prison where she quickly becomes one of the toughest chicks ever portrayed on the big screen.

Let’s face it: Scorpion is a movie filled with straightforward lesbian sex, violence, torture and rape. However, Ito refuses to play them for simple kicks nor rely merely on them. In fact he uses these extreme acts as a strong, superb build-up for the final showdown that is both entertaining and rewarding. Kaji is beaten up and tortured by guards and her fellow inmates, kept in solitary cell and made to work until she collpases after she was raped and imprisoned by corrupted cops. She takes all of it calmly and quietly, insisting on annoying the wrong-doers who will eventually meet their grim ends. Ito really hammers her pain down for 80 minutes nearly without a break and lets Kaji loose for the last 10 minutes. The result is fascinating.

I probably simplify the film’s plot a bit too much. In all honesty, it’s quite a complicated beast that involves a wide range of characters. Admirably, Ito spends a lot of time introducing these characters and setting their places in the stereotypical roles. There are many big bad authority figures, there are wise sidekicks and sympathetic helpers. The characters are surprisingly well used as the story develops and Ito doesn’t forgot a single one of them. All of them are written out of the film in a reasonable way that adds up to Kaji’s own story in some way. The bad guys are so evil it could be corny, but Ito takes them so far over the top that it ends up being more entertaining than one would imagine possible.

Compared to what Hasebe and Fujita offered in the Stray Cat Rock films, Ito’s visual flavor is distinctly different here. Despite being as wild sometimes Ito displays a genuine control over his trickery in a serious way. The splashes of expressionism do not stand out as anything weird despite relying on weird make-up and strong lighting – instead they fit perfectly to the film’s atmosphere. The ambitious, moving sets give to the flashback sequence a refreshing feeling and sets the scene apart from the present in a surreal way. Ito saves the most offbeat camera angles for the scenes where he needs to make an impact. His framing and editing skills are solid in general. The only problem his approach suffers from is that he is completely clueless about using slow motion. He uses it on too many occasions, at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Luckily he saves its usage for a few scenes, but it’s enough to break the seductive illusion of exploitation once in a while.

In overall, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a solid and entertaining film if you can keep your mind open for exploitation. By watching this film you can determine whether you ever want to spend time with Japanese exploitation or not.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

One Response to Spotlight on Japan: Female Prisoner #701 – Scorpion

  1. Adam DiPiazza says:

    It’s been almost four years since I first watched this film, and though I haven’t viewed it since, I have not forgotten much about it. Meiko Kaji is the quintessential tough girl actress, in my opinion, and is part of what keeps the series from feeling like your typical exploitation films, even though it clearly falls in that genre. Of course, overall what makes it feel less exploitative is the quasi-feminist themes throughout, though they are definitely more pronounced in the second film than the first.

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