Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)
By: J.R. Gregory on.May 19, 2009  | 
Eureka Video (UK). Region 2, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 87 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Shunya Ito
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama, Isao Natsuyagi, Fumio Watanabe, Yoichi Numata, Saburo Date, Yayoi Watanabe, Yoko Mihara
Screenplay: Fumio Konami, Hirô Matsuda
Country: Japan
External Links
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From the opening scene director Shunya Ito boldly proclaims his subversive intent. While the prison guards and warden are being presented with an award for services to the country, Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) and her mute friend Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe) make an escape attempt. This is only thwarted by Yuki's misfortunate timing in suffering her period; her severe cramping slows them down and the scent of her menstrual blood leads the guard dogs to them. The two are returned to the prison, bound in traditional Japanese style, and locked in dark, wet solitary cells.

At this point (after the opening credit sequence which provides us with the twin thrills of lines of naked women walking around some form of ladder apparatus for little obvious reason and the haunting Grudge Song, sung by Meiko Kaji, and used by Tarantino in Kill Bill, that provides a thematic description for the film) we are shown the reason our heroine ended up incarcerated. It appears that Nami's first love, Sugimi (Isao Natsuyagi) is actually a crooked narcotics officer who cynically used Nami in a sting operation. In a series of staged scenes, we see Nami revealed and gang-raped by yakuza, while Sugimi stands in the background receiving a pay-off from the yakuza boss. Sugimi then casually tosses a few bills on Nami's violated body, transforming her from innocent to avenging demon by his betrayal. Nami then attacks her former lover with a knife outside his police station, only to be stopped by a group of uniformed officers who arrest her.

It is revealed later that Nami did not testify against the yakuza or her former boyfriend. Sugimi is concerned that this might change, and conspires to silence Nami while she is in gaol. To do so he makes contact with Katagiri (Rie Yokoyama), another inmate and head of the girl gang within the prison, to kill Nami. The warden (Fumio Watanabe) is also determined to break Nami for her escape attempt and for his embarrassment during his presentation ceremony. Thus a chain of events is set on course for one of the wildest movies within the women-in-prison genre.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is above average for two reasons: the cinematic vision of director Shunya Ito and the intensity of Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion's star, Meiko Kaji. Shunya Ito, through the inventive use of lighting, ingenious set-design and surrealist touches, has managed to transfer the heightened reality that exists in manga, upon which Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is based, and put it on the screen. For instance, in the scene where Nami is being raped, we see it from below through a glass floor. Afterwards, as she is lying on the glass floor, deep red lighting pours up through the floor. A series of edits then sees Nami's long black hair rearrange into a dark mane, turning her into the vengeful demon. These stylistic flourishes, and the numerous others throughout the film, are one reason why this film is elevated well above the average.

The whole cast put in fine performances, and many are Japanese film veterans, but there is one star and the second reason this is an extraordinary film. That is the stunning beauty Meiko Kaji, and what she brings to the role of Nami. The original manga had Nami as an obscenity-spewing heroine, but Meiko Kaji managed to convince the director that the film would be better served if these were removed and that Nami should barely speak at all. Consequently, much of Nami's emotional state is conveyed through her eyes. Kaji's performance is an intense one, and dominates the whole film. Through all the degradations and humiliations she endures, she does so with poise, dignity and controlled rage, barely saying a word. She says so much through her eyes, through her stare, that words are rendered obsolete. Indeed, after the stare she gives those who push her you know the receiver is in for a horrible end. A mesmeric performance that gives Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion its continued power to seize an audience, almost thirty years after its initial release.

This gives a brief taste of what this film involves. Also included is remarkable stylised violence, truncheon beatings, light-bulb torture, hot-soup burnings, eye-violence, lesbians, astounding revenge sequences, and digging, lots and lots of digging. This is all done in such a daring fashion that it is difficult to believe that this is a debut feature. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion demands your attention from the opening scene and keeps you there until the end credits roll.
The visuals on this disc are top-quality. Shunya Ito's uses of colour throughout this film are highlighted here magnificently, adding to the sense of hyper-reality. The disc is presented in an anamorphic transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The sound is clean and clear. Meiko Kaji's vocals, the jarring chords that accompany every appearance of the villain, all add to the mix of a superb aural presentation. The subtitles are clear and easy to read. Presented in Japanese stereo with optional English subtitles.
Extra Features
There is the original Theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, liner notes, and that is all. Disappointing, particularly considering the influence and the increased interest in this film and its star since the release of Tarantino's Kill Bill series. It would have been interesting to hear an interview with Meiko Kaji, or even Tarantino, or somebody about the impact of this series of films.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is the first film in the Female Prisoner series and I challenge anyone to come away disappointed with this film. Fast-paced, beautifully shot, with lashings of nudity and violence, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion rightly deserves its place at the top of the women-in-prison genre. The stunning visuals and creative vision of Shunya Ito are among the most superb in exploitation cinema. Meiko Kaji's intense portrayal of contained fury is one of cinema's finest depictions of female vengeance. This is a stunning movie that never gives the audience the chance to be bored. A must for fans of exploitation cinema.

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