Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 — movie review
Posted on April 15, 2007 by Chris Nelson
Way back in high-school, Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 and Black Lizard served as my introduction to 1970’s Japanese exploitation cinema. I was a bit reluctant to review this film, lest my opinion be clouded by rosy glasses and nostalgia. But, having gone back to the film again, I believe I’m prepared, and my love for it justified.
Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 starts pretty much where Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion left off. Having been captured following committing “slashing vengeance” on her treacherous ex, the opening scene of Jailhouse 41 shows Sasori (Meiko Kaji) bound and confined to a dank, dirty holding cell. But Sasori is far from broken. For while she doesn’t possess the use of her limbs, we find her crafting a shiv from a spoon, clenched tightly in her jaw, using nothing but the walls and floor of her holding cell — an act that immediately and perfectly conveys her character’s strength, fortitude, and singular determination, and triumphantly heralds the return of this gloriously feminist, conquering anti-heroine.
Although sub-titled Jailhouse 41, that setting isn’t used for long. During a prison inspection by a government official, Sasori sets off a prisoner revolt after attempting to blind the prison warden with her homemade shiv (she took his first eye in the first Scorpion film). The physical revolt is suppressed, but the act stokes a rebellious fire in the women. And later, following a session of particularly grueling prison duty, the women again fight back. This time a party of six, including Sasori, escape the jailhouse. The rest of the film follows the women’s escape from the law, and in turn their escape from the world of male dominance. Of course, the journey is not without its hardships. The women are blocked at near every turn, not only by police and guards, but also by their own infighting, treachery, jealousy, and rage (most often directed toward Sasori). By far the best of Ito’s Scorpion entries, the film builds up a flurry of adventure and action, and culminates in the most beautifully hopeful endings of all the Scorpion films.
I’ve said a lot about the visual style of the other Sasori films, but Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 by far packs the most visual panache. Having received an increased budget on the success of the first Scorpion film, and no longer being confined to regular interior settings, director Shunya Ito goes all out, turning everything into his stage-drama universe. Really, there are so many stunning compositions. Entire streets are illuminated using theater lighting sensibilities. The interior of a bus, filled with hostages taken by the women, seamlessly transforms into a jury room, the captives now passing judgment on their captors. A tranquil waterfall is polluted bright red following a truly detestable act. The girls scamper slow-mo across lava rock dunes and decimated towns, accompanied by Kaji’s haunting ballad, “Onna No Jyumon.” It’s a visual feast in the truest sense of the term.
Kaji, as always, owns her role as Sasori. She’s this raw, smoldering ball of fury; beautiful, deadly, and refusing to bow to any man. She’s definitely one of the few true feminist heroines to ever hit the screen. There are a few moments, however, where she does break character. In one sequence you can see her eyes flicking up as if for directorial confirmation while one of her group shoots an officer point blank. However, I only noticed this on my most recent viewing. If you stare at anything too long, you’ll start to notice the seams. Still, great great stuff.
In closing, it’s really amazing that Ito didn’t produce more films than he did. As of 2007 he has only eleven films to his credit. The only western directors that I can think of who’ve crafted anything remotely close would be Gondry and Greenaway. While I am strongly opposed to film schooling, I think that if students studied artists like Ito, Ishii, and the Suzukis, we might not be plagued with the uninteresting factory produced dreck that fills our theaters on a weekly basis. Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 is an amazing film. It is a masterpiece of the genre, and a stunningly made film. Although the Region 1 DVD for this film is long out of print, if you love cinema, you owe it to yourself to track it down.
About the Author