The Films (3/5, 2/5, 4/5, 3/5)
After her police detective boyfriend takes her virginity, uses her in a drug bust, lets her get brutally raped by a bunch of yakuza, and dumps her afterward, Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) loses control. She tries to kill her bastard ex in broad daylight with a knife and ends up going to jail. Nami quickly earns the nickname Matsu the Scorpion for her ruthless personality and propensity for daring escapes from the pokey.
Through four films released between 1972 and 1973, the lovely Meiko Kaji portrayed the stone cold Matsu (a creation of manga artist Tōru Shinohara) as she stabbed and slashed her way through all manner of villainous pieces of human garbage. These films pushed the envelope in sleaze, violence, and style. Director Shunya Itō directed three of the four films and his anti-establishment and explosive visual style rescue Female Prisoner Scorpion from being just another women-in-prison series. The last film in the series was directed by Yasuharu Hasebe, another Japanese exploitation maverick.
My favorite thing that Shunya Itō brings to the films is little touches of gothic horror that fit the material perfectly. The first film spends too much time inside the prison which would be corrected by the following and much more dynamic titles as they spent as little time in prison as possible. One thing that all four films have in common is the explosively colorful lighting, a practically paralyzing layer of wide-eyed melodrama, and a perfect snapshot of the seedy side of Japanese cinema in the early 1970s.
It’s easy to see that the films in this set were considerably damaged before Arrow Video got their hands on them. There’s a slight flickering effect during the darker scenes throughout the entire series but it’s not distracting or seizure inducing. Jailhouse 41suffers the most from the color palette being overly blue. It’s noticeable but taking into account how old these films are, I don’t think this is a deal breaker. Mono audio is excellent for all four films with easy-to-read English subtitles.
Holy. Crap. This set is loaded! Get comfy because you’re not going anywhere for a while. Director Gareth Evans (The Raid) gushes about Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 and how it influenced his filmmaking. There’s also an interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira who worked on the fist and the last films in the series. The main extra here is the interview with director Shunya Itō.
Film critic Kier-La Janisse talks about his love for FPS: Jailhouse 41 but my favorite extra on this disc is the always charming critic Jasper Sharp. He talks about the career of Shunya Itō. Next up, Tadayuki Kuwana talks about his art direction on two of the FPS films. He would bring his masterful eye to the yakuza classic Graveyard of Honor just a couple of years later. On the following disc, editor-in-chielf of Diabolique Magazine Kat Ellinger talks about her appreciation of the best film of the series, FPS: Beast Stable.
There’s an awesome interview with director Shunya Itō who claims he thought that Meiko Kaji was wrong for the role of Matsu but eventually realized that she was perfect. That didn’t stop him from making her suffer in every film, making every film more and more extreme. Good job, buddy. Writer Tom Mes has a visual essay about the film career of Meiko Kaji.
Finally, we round things off with another batch of extras. You getting tired yet? No? Then let’s keep going. Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts) talks about how the FPS movies inspired his films. Director Yasuharu Hasebe finally gets his say and Jasper Sharp returns to talk about his Hasebe’s career. Last but not least, there’s another visual essay by Tom Mes on the FPS film series. Each film has an accompanying original theatrical trailer. The set comes with reversible artwork for each film and a booklet with an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens, an interview with manga artist Toru Shinohara, and reproductions of promotional artwork.
I hate to admit it but I’m losing my exploitation mojo. If I see one more rape scene I’m going to dig a hole in my yard, fill it up, dig it again, and repeat the process until I faint from exhaustion. Sometimes the sexual violence in the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies fuels the revenge machine lying just under the surface of Matsu and sometimes it’s just there to fill the running time. Apparently, men are terrible. Oh but women are also bad too. Jailhouse 41 has a dog getting the crap beaten out of it by the lady prisoners. Everyone is bad. I need to go and watch some Pokemon or something.
I’m sorry; I was starting to lose my mind for a second there. I highly recommend the Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection to exploitation film fans with a high tolerance for rape and torture scenes. The wildly elaborate set and lighting design coupled with the anarchic editing make these films worth watching beyond their trashier elements and they might just melt your brain.