FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: Available Now on DVD
WRITTEN BY: Various
DIRECTED BY: Shunya Ito, Yasuharu Hasebe
STARRING: Meiko Kaji
How many of you out there are familiar with the popular “women’s prison” cycle of exploitation flicks made most famous by B-Movie producer/living legend Roger Corman in the 1970’s? How many of you are proud to admit that fact like your’s cruelly? Well let me tell ya Chuck; if you think you’ve seen it all in that tawdry genre, the FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION series will absolutely melt the eyes right out o’ yer skull – in a fun way, I assure you.
A lil’ history before we begin. Created by Japanese manga artist T’ru Shinohara in 1970; the Sasori (Scorpion) series told the tale of Nami Matsushima, an inmate in a women’s prison that has to endure all manner of abuse from fellow prisoners and sadistic guards alike before beginning a bloody trail of revenge against her tormentors as well as her corrupt police officer boyfriend who did her wrong. Starting in 1972; Toei Company produced a series of four films detailing Matsushima’s outrageous exploits. And that brings us to Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo release; FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION!
Let’s take this baby film by film, shall we?
FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION (1972):
After being framed by her police officer boyfriend Sugimi to gain favor with the Yakuza (who proceed to brutalize her), our heroine Nami Matsushima attempts to stab him to death in revenge. She is then sent to what has to be the worst prison ever (although the near constant brutality that transpires there takes on a decidedly surreal comic book tone – no surprise given the series origins). Slowly Matsushima finds her footing within the system and lashes out against a particularly nasty prison gang before being targeted by death (in a plan hatched by Sugimi and his Yakuza pals). This of course fails, and what follows is a non-stop whirlwind of violence, riots, and really snappy hats.
Comprised of equal parts nastiness, sadistic comedy, and full on art house surrealism; FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION is both a rock solid start to the series, and a truly unique entry in the salacious women in prison genre. Thrown into the heady mix is an element of socio-political commentary dealing with abuse of power and the degrading treatment of women in society that plenty of drive-in fare of the time dealt with. Silent and stoic; Matsushima’s journey from victim to anti-hero is engaging stuff and easily brings to mind the burdened heroes of the Spaghetti Westerns of the time such as Corbucci’s DJANGO (1966).
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41 (1972):
After attempting to murder the prison warden, Matsushima triggers a full on riot; which ultimately fails. Crucified (literally) for her troubles, Matsushima then suffers at the hands of four guards dressed as monks (trust me; it gets weirder). Soon Matsushima along with a handful of fellow convicts are shipped to a hard labor camp, and while returning to the prison they orchestrate an escape. The convicts flee to what appears to be an abandoned village; but appearances can be deceiving as it is revealed that an ancient women lives within a house in the village – and when I say revealed, I mean the whole damn house collapses heralding her arrival on the scene. What follows is a surreal piece that explains the individual crimes of the convicts. The hag soon gives Matsushima a knife before turning to leaves and blowing away; as one does. The journey continues as deviant tourists, bloodthirsty prison guards, and the police all attempt to end our “heroine’s” flight.
Packed with even more off-kilter insanity then the first film; FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41 is an excellent follow up to the first film. The plot is as slim as that of the first; but the absolute “anything goes” mentality of the production makes it inconsequential (as the strength of the Matsushima character did in the first). Speaking of Matsushima; she is utilized differently here. The feelings of the other convicts in the story take center stage; while she is utilized more as silent observer who strikes only when it is deemed absolutely necessary (similar to how the main character of DESPERADO was utilized in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO). It’s an interesting concept that makes Matsushima seem to transition from anti-hero to legendary figure; and keeps the proceedings fresh.
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE (1973)
The third film in the Scorpion series begins with Matsushima already on the run. Before long she falls in with a troubled prostitute, who has become pregnant as the result of an ultra-wrong relationship (this is a family site so I’m not going to go into it here; but trust me when you see what I’m talking about there will be a SILKWOOD style shower in your future). Of course multiple parties (including the police and an ex-prison mate of Matsushima) all converge to give our heroine a ton of static.
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE is divergent from the previous entries in that almost none of the film’s runtime takes place in a prison (the previous film was like that as well; but there were the elements of the convicts banded together and the work camp that gave it much more of a typical women in prison vibe). Matsushima lives a mundane existence for a portion of the story; she gets a job, makes friends – she’s still a living statue, but she at least has the basics of a normal existence.
Also missing for the most part are the over-the-top surrealist sequences (which works in creating a more sedate vibe – but nonetheless they were greatly missed, though there is a great sequence that takes place in a white room with gallons of the ol’ gore splashed about). The one thing that does remain in place is the shocking violence; with a sequence involving a severed arm being a real devious delight.
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: GRUDGE SONG (1973)
In the final installment; Matsushima is once again roaming around outside of prison walls. This time she is hiding out in a wedding chapel when police sniff her out. She of course escapes and falls in with a worker in a sex club (he does the lights in case you were wondering) named Kudo. As fate would have it; ol’ Kudo is a radical with a long history of being on the receiving end of some serious police brutality. Before long it is brought to the fuzz’s attention that Kudo is harboring everyone’s fav fugitive so they beat the ever lovin’ tar out of him then tail him to Matsushima’s hiding place. Matsushima is then incarcerated and sentenced to death by hanging – we all know how well that goes.
With a change of director (Yasuharu Hasebe steps in for the previous film’s Shunya Ito) comes a change in tone. Gone entirely (save for the final set-piece) are the hyper-stylized near theatrical set pieces of the previous films. This film also seems a bit plodding where the previous entries never did.
To rate the series as to my level of enjoyment from the best to the worst (though even at its lowest ebb, this series still manages to entertain in the way that only true cult cinema can) my ranking would go as follows:
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41
FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: GRUDGE SONG
The films contained in this release are reason enough to make this a worthy addition to any collection of off-beat exploitation cinema, but there are a few extra features that serve to round out the package including “appreciations” of the series from journalists and film makers, trailers, archival interviews with the creators behind the series, and an informative video essay.
In conclusion I would highly recommend this release to anyone that loves either the “women in prison” genre, solid revenge cinema, or those that are looking for a wholly unique exploitation cinema viewing experience!
You can pick up your own copy of FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION right here!