Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)
By: J.R. Gregory on July 14, 2009  | 
DVD
Eureka Video (UK). Region 2, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 92 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Shunya Ito
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Fumio Watanabe, Kayoko Shiraishi, Hiroko Isayama
Screenplay: Shunya Ito
Country: Japan
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is the deliriously insane follow-up to Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is a film that defies easy encapsulation as just another women-in-prison movie. With a style that is totally unique, jaw-droppingly audacious in its intent and verging on the precipice of complete disintegration, Director Shunya Ito has taken the best parts of the first film, completely unhinged them and taken them to their logical extremes. Welcome to the lunatic world of Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41.

Beginning with an agitated, twisting shot through a series of dark tunnels in the bowels of the gaol, we find Sasori (aka Scorpion, Meiko Kaji) bound in a dark, wet underground cell. Sasori has been kept here for the last year where she remains steadfastly unbroken. Sasori's single-mindedness is demonstrated in the iconic opening sequence, showing her in a pale blue light fashioning a spoon into a weapon. She holds the spoon between her teeth, scraping it against the floor repeatedly, knowing that there will come a time when she can use it.

In her cell Sasori is visited by the prison warden (Fumio Watanabe, also returning from the first film) and told that she will be presented with the rest of the inmates to some high-ranking official to witness his promotion. His remaining eye glares at Sasori, declaring his hatred towards her, screaming how he wants to drive her mad. Sasori is hosed down and dragged into the daylight with the rest of the inmates. While the prison band plays an out of tune version of the national anthem, Sasori lunges at the warden, almost gouging out his other eye. From the ensuing dramatised pause the other prisoners riot, leaving the warden furious and the Government official sitting in a pool of his own urine.

With order restored after the humiliation of the presentation ceremony, the warden commands all the inmates to be punished. He does so by having them haul giant rocks around a quarry in a stark, lunar-like landscape. Sasori is separated from the rest of the group and is bound crucifixion-like while she too hauls rocks. This is insufficient for the warden, who then orders four of his guards to rape her while the rest of the inmates and guards watch on.

After the punishment, Sasori and a group of inmates are transported back to the gaol. Sasori is bloodied and bound, and while one inmate attempts to aid her, she is told not to assist her by the other prisoners. They then round on Sasori, beating and kicking her, and leading one to exclaim loudly that they've killed her. The truck stops and the guards check if she is still alive. Sasori takes this opportunity to attack the guard, and the other female prisoners assist Sasori in overpowering the other. The group then make their escape into the wider world, meeting an assortment of unstable characters and unsavoury types, each encounter creating a mounting tide of mayhem.

This escape allows director Shunya Ito significantly greater potential to pursue his vision than in the first film. It's as if he felt that he had reached the end of what could be accomplished within the traditional confines of the women in prison genre with his first film and wanted to create something entirely original. He has certainly succeeded with Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 for this is a different beast, altogether more frenzied than the first instalment.

In the first film, there was a hint of the stylistic excesses that Shunya Ito wanted to unleash. In Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, these urges are well and truly allowed to run riot. The use of crazy camera angles, stylised lighting, surrealistic touches and imagery are all amplified to an insane degree. He also plays out scenes for a longer period of time; never surrendering to the notion of enough is enough. It is these factors that give this film a delirious flavour, an impression that things are barely under control, and that absolutely anything could happen next. The fact that this film maintains some form of coherency is testament to the skill of the director.

The locations and images used are similarly augmented, providing emphasis on the feverish intent of the director. Shunya Ito wanted to accentuate the differences between the viewer's experience of reality and what was happening on screen. The location used during the punishment sequence is distinctly otherworldly. At a later point, we see the escapees running down the side of a hill towards a village that has been covered by volcanic ash, the tops of telegraph poles sticking out vainly as the women run past them; a forest sequence is so full of colour that it overwhelms; a waterfall turns blood red at another juncture. Ito's use of imagery and location throughout add to the feverish treats in this movie.

As with Ito's camerawork and images, he has determined that the actors too should be on the brink. The cast play their roles to a delirious degree. Reflecting the opening lines from the warden, it is like each character is attempting to drive those around them crazy without realising they too are losing their grip. The more the warden orders his guards to do his bidding, the less in control he becomes and the more obsessed he appears. This is especially true of the female characters, particularly when they routinely round on Sasori, exiling her from their world, blaming her for their predicament. They scream at one another, delirious grins etched across their faces as they attempt to maintain whatever perceived advantages they have.

Similarly, the skill of Meiko Kaji to communicate so much when saying so little (she has five words in the entire movie) is a tribute to her abilities. The attributes of Sasori from the first film, minimal dialogue, toughness, resoluteness, and targeted aggression, are again amplified to a mind-boggling magnitude. Her presence is felt throughout the movie, to the extent that you can sense her intense gaze even when she is out of shot. She even stares straight into the camera on several key occasions, most notably during the rape sequence, locking eyes with the audience and giving an implicit accusation as we watch. Her strength is such that some would go as far to say she is a feminist star. Certainly, there are no sympathetic male characters to be found, but the women aren't much better either, who routinely round on Sasori. If this film has a political agenda, then it is about the power of the individual against an overbearing and rigid society.

This gives barely a hint of what is involved in this film. There are the stunning locations, the hallucinatory sequences, the bloody violence, all shot in a delirious style. There are the numerous encounters the escapees encounter along the way, one with a Shinto witch who recounts each girl's story in a stage manner, the busload of drunken salarymen, stand-offs and imagery of the most striking nature. What could have collapsed under its own weight is instead an exploitation, arthouse extravaganza.
Video
This digital transfer looks stunning. The colours utilised throughout this movie are shown up in vivid detail. The forest sequences with all its visual detail, the sharp blues and oranges look magnificent. The detail is absolutely superb. Shown in anamorphic widescreen in 2.35:1 original aspect ratio.
Audio
The sound is clear and sharp throughout. The subtitles can get a bit hard to read in places, but good overall. Presented in Japanese stereo with optional English subtitles.
Extra Features
Minimal extras offered here. There is the original theatrical trailer, some publicity stills and that is all. Disappointing effort in this regard.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The second instalment in the Scorpion series is a standalone masterpiece of artistic vision and exploitation film-making. Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is like a methamphetamine-fuelled weekend; a frenzied assault on the senses that could, and does, go in any conceivable direction. It is unbalanced, extreme, filled with colour and is unparalleled in exploitation film making. What is presented here is a rare beast, an exploitation film that is filled with iconic images and artistic flourishes. A truly audacious film that deserves the title of classic.

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