Tuesday, May 23, 2017 12:40

Female Prisoner #701 – Scorpion (1972)

If you like the ‘more is more’ approach to exploitation cinema, then Shunya Itô’s masterly Female Convict films should be right up your street. Itô made several of these films, based on a series of popular graphic novels, during the 1970s. They’re not strictly a linear series, none of them are sequels; each of the films reprises similar themes but lets them play out in different ways. What is guaranteed is that each of the films tick all the boxes when it comes to the staples of exploitation films, and the film I watched this evening – Female Prisoner #701 – Scorpion – is no exception. Nudity? Check. Murder? Check. Torture, arson, police corruption, lesbianism, male-on-female and female-on-male rape, riots and assassinations? All there in abundance.

Young Nami Matsushima (expertly played by the gorgeous Meiko Kaji) winds up in the slammer when her corrupt cop boyfriend sets her up during a dodgy drugs bust. Filled to breaking-point with that old Asian lust for vengeance and having once failed to escape, she is subjected to horrendous treatment at the hands of the guards, warden and fellow prisoners, all of whom feel threatened by her grim stoicism and failure to comply. However, when aforementioned dodgy cop boyfriend finds out that Nami has already managed to get beyond the prison walls, he decides that she is just too much of a liability, and orders the establishment to ‘break her’ by any means – solitary confinement, back-breaking work, starvation and ultimately disposing of her. Since all the other prisoners are made to suffer alongside her, it is certain that something is going to have to give…

Yet, as with other Japanese directors of potentially ludicrous or grisly fare (such as Norifumi Suzuki’s dazzling Convent of the Holy Beast a year later) Shunya Itô manages to direct a film that is by turns innovative and spectacular. His devotion to atmosphere renders even the most violent scene an exercise in craftmanship, combining novel camera angles and action with psychadelic interludes, split-screens, shadows, flashbacks and a whole range of techniques which make this film a joy to watch. This is much more than grindhouse without losing that underground feel, and it’s a masterstroke. I’ve seen two in the series so far and I’m now very keen to track down Female Convict: Beast Stable!

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