Sex Hell: True Story of a Woman in Jail
Director - Koyu Ohara
Cast - Kozue Hitomi, Seri Kaori
Country of Origin - Japan
Discs - 1
MSRP - $24.95
Distributor - Synapse
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 3/5
A group of young women arrested for various illegal offenses have been shipped to a Japanese juvenile hall to await trial. Among their numbers are Houjou (Kozue Hitomi), a former nurse with a quiet nature, and teenager prostitute Harumi (Hiromi Maya). Once they’re processed the two are thrown into a group cell with no beds and one toilet to share with everyone else, and in this cell the queen bee Hiromi (Seri Kaori) makes the rules. As Houjou and Harumi go about their days making the most of their predicament they and many of their fellow prisoners are subjected to regular acts of sexual degradation at the hands of their jailers, but they also find solace in each other’s arms (and other vital parts of the female anatomy, if you know what I mean and I think you do). Surprisingly Houjou doesn’t think that the lesbian companionship, hearty meals, and outdoor volleyball games are any way for a person to live and hatches a plan to escape captivity so she can take some well-deserved revenge on the scumbag male who had her set up, and she’s bringing along the queen bee because she has some unfinished man business of her own.
Marketed as sexploitation Sex Hell isn’t exactly what its cover art promises. While there is some occasional sleaze to be mined from its 72-minute running time this is more somber than your typical women-in-prison flick. You’ll find plenty of nubile and nude young Japanese women feeling each other up, giving (and receiving) golden showers, getting into catfights, taking group showers, and being exploited for sexual pleasure by the guards at the juvenile hall. Unfortunately that’s pretty much all you find in this movie. Other than the three principal characters we know next to nothing about the other girls in the hall. The plot is more of a thinly-constructed series of vignettes of daily life in the juvie jail, softcore same sex couplings, and mildly violent beats that would hardly rate a PG-13 in the U.S. Flashbacks to the pasts of Houjou and Hiromi make up a sizable chunk of the narrative and those beats do the film more harm than good at times. After all the more time we spend exploring our heroines’ back stories the less time we get for hot lesbo action, and that is something I just cannot abide.
What we do get is plentiful and lovely to look at thanks to the sumptuous cinematography and the actresses’ willingness to bare all front and back for our titillation. The action never gets too naughty due to Japan’s strict censorship of sexual content in their films, but that’s what human beings were blessed with the gift of imagination for.
Impulse presents Sex Hell in a nice, clean 2.35: 1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks pretty well preserved for an obscure, 37-year-old Asian cult film. The image is somewhat soft but grain is hardly noticeable. The Japanese 2.0 mono track lacks bombast thankfully and gives the dialogue and bluesy music score (by the Downtown Boogie Woogie Band) equal space.
There are no extra features on this DVD but the disc does come with a handsome (yet thin) booklet of liner notes written by Jasper Sharp, the author of The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, with the movie’s boob-tacular original poster art as the cover. A commentary or video interview from Sharp would have made a nice addition to the disc.
No amount of hot, naked female flesh and sizzling lesbian sex could prevent Sex Hell from being a fun but forgettable addition to the WIP subgenre. Impulse’s lack of effort in creating a DVD worth buying doesn’t help the movie’s case either. Recommended if you want to see Japanese babes fingering and beating each other up but not much else.