Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection
(Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama, Yoyoi Watanabe, et al / 8-Disc Blu-ray+DVD / NR / 2016 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Starring the iconic and beautiful Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood, Stray Cat Rock) in a role that came to define her career, the four-film Female Prisoner Scorpion series charts the vengeance of Nami Matsushima, who assumes the mantle of "Scorpion," becoming an avatar of vengeance and survival, and an unlikely symbol of female resistance in a male-dominated world.
Blu-ray Verdict: In 'Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion', a beautiful young woman is double-crossed by her corrupt cop boyfriend, raped by his Yakuza thug associates, and then--to add insult to injury--unjustly sentenced to a brutal women's prison. She becomes increasingly stoical, however, biding her time until she can have her revenge on all her enemies both in and out of prison.
'Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion' is definitely exploitation, though it must be said it's a classy exploitation film. Sure, the film may start with an escape attempt by Matsu (Kaji) and another prisoner, but one doesn't have to look further than the titles to see this is exploitation cinema: naked women running up and down stairs whilst being watched by guards. But whereas there are a few traditional exploitation scenes (and some of those are pretty nasty), the film never gets tacky.
Visually a masterpiece (impressive visuals and sets), a strong lead, an excellent director, beautiful settings ... this is one of the best exploitation films you'll get to see. If you are too afraid to venture into the dark waters of exploitation cinema, watch the sequel first!
And talking about the sequel, the visually avant-garde follow-up 'Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41' is next on deck. This time Matsu, obviously known to the prisoners as Scorpion, is locked away in the bowels of the prison as revenge for disrupting the smooth operation of the prison and for her disfiguring attack on the warden. Granted a one day reprieve due to the visit of a dignitary, she takes advantage and attacks the warden again.
This leads to more brutal punishment and humiliation. But the punishment gives her an opportunity to escape along with six other female prisoners. Their surreal flight from prison pits the convicts against the guards, the warden and each other.
'Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41' is masterfully shot in a classic Japanese style that emphasizes color and full use of the widescreen presentation. The film also has a bit of a campiness to it that adds a flavor that is unusual for a foreign film. Most foreign films that are thought of as being campy usually are just not well done. This is not the case with 'Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41'. The campiness that I refer to is the same campiness that has made the Evil Dead series such a success. Exaggeration of many shots and the characters themselves, all the good stuff that we all know and love from this type of film.
Next up is the Gothic horror-inspired 'Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable', a real treat amongst the genre lovers. Basically put, for these is much more to this than first meets the eye, Sasori is outside the prison and on the run from the police, wanted for breaking out of prison and murder. She takes refuge with a woman who has a brother with a learning disability. The woman and her brother are also involved in an incestuous relationship. Both the police and an ex-prison mate of Sasori's pursue her.
The third film in a cycle of incomparably brilliant Exploitation movies, and the third masterpiece in a row, "Joshuu Sasori: Kemono-beya" aka. "Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable" of 1973 is a film that differs from its predecessors in some aspects, but that equals (or arguably even surpasses) them in brilliance. The entire original Sasori series with the wonderful Meiko Kaji stands out as the absolute highlight in WIP cinema, and all of the films, especially the first three, uniquely combine Exploitation and Art-house cinema like no other movie does.
'Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable' is the third, and second-to-last "Sasori" film with Meiko Kaji, the last one to be directed by genius director Shunya Ito and, in my opinion, the greatest of them all. Meiko Kaji gives her usual amazing performance as Sasori, emoting silently, standing or moving or pouncing or maiming with a grace that switches seamlessly between human and animal.
The pathos present in all three films is largely due to the human side of this grace, which never inhibits the films' darker aspects. Reportedly, Kaji, who did one more Scorpion film after this one, had as much to do with developing the character for film as Ito, not only in her performances, but off-camera as well.
The last movie in the collection is 'Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701's Grudge Song', where Nami Matsushima (aka The Scorpion), still on the run from Kodama, meets Yasuo. Together they try to exact revenge on the corrupt detective, but when things go awry, Nami is back in prison and has to find a way to escape before being hanged.
Meiko Kaji returned to play the title role, but director Shunya Ito was replaced by Yasuharu Hasebe (1932-2009). Hasebe was more controversial, and is best known for his movies in the "violent pink" subgenre of the Pink film, such as "Assault! Jack the Ripper" (1976), and the provocatively-titled "Rape!" (1976), "Rape! 13th Hour" (1977) and "Raping!" (1978). Take from that what you will.
'Grudge Song' is the last entry in the "official" 'Female Convict Scorpion' series and is often considered lesser to the other three. This is true, it's not quite as good as those that went before it; but even so, the film is certainly a worthy entry. The plot once again focuses on the quiet dark haired lunatic that goes by the name Scorpion. She's still on the run and after a run-in with the cops, finds herself injured. She's helped by a young man who takes her in, gives her shelter and forms an alliance with her. However, after another run in with the cops; he's captured and finds himself with a dilemma.
This film is not as surreal as the previous entries as the new director seems to prefer a more direct and exploitative approach, and that's OK with me. The surreal elements are what made the previous films what they are in a way, but I've come to expect a different thing each time from this series so I don't mind that change in style here. Meiko Kaji once again takes the central role and once again does excellently with it. She doesn't say a lot as is usually the case, but she looks so sinister and this is what really makes her performances in these films.
This film has less of a revenge theme and more of a political one and it works fairly well. The violence is still the main focal point for me, but this film probably has a bit more 'meat' on it than the previous three. This is a new High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the LIMITED EDITION Special Feature contents of:
Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (4000 copies)
Brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays) for all films
Optional English subtitles for all films
Double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks
Reversible sleeves for all films featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
Booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens, a brand new interview with Toru Shinohara, creator of the original Scorpion manga and an archive interview with Meiko Kaji by Chris D. illustrated with original stills
FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION
Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (The Raid)
Shunya Ito: Birth of an Outlaw, an archive interview with the director
Scorpion Old and New, a new interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira
Theatrical Trailers for all four films in the series
FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41
Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse
Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito
Designing Scorpion, a new interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana
Original Theatrical Trailer and Teaser
FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE
Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger
Shunya Ito: Directing Meiko Kaji, an archive interview with the director
Unchained Melody, a new visual essay by Tom Mes on the career of Meiko Kaji
Original Theatrical Trailer and Teaser
FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: #701’s GRUDGE SONG
Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts)
Yasuharu Hasebe: Finishing the Series, an archive interview with the director
Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe
They Call Her Scorpion, a new visual essay by Tom Mes on the film series
Original Theatrical Trailer