Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 (1972)

Review #1,183

Director:  Shunya Ito
Cast:  Meiko Kaji, Fumio Watanabe, Kayoko Shiraishi
Plot:  Matsu, known to the prisoners as Scorpion, is locked away in the bowels of the prison as revenge for disrupting the smooth operation of the prison and for her disfiguring attack on the warden.  Granted a one day reprieve due to the visit of a dignitary, she takes advantage and attacks the warden again.  This leads to more brutal punishment and humiliation.  But the punishment gives her an opportunity to escape along with six other female prisoners.  Their surreal flight from prison pits the convicts against the guards, the warden and each other. 

Genre:  Thriller / Crime
Awards:  -
Runtime:  90min
Rating:  R21 for violence and sexual violence.
Source:  Toei 

The opening theme song, so beautifully sung by Meiko Kaji, begins the movie in earnest.  It is a song that continues to strike me after first hearing it used to great effect in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003).  Kaji stars as Sasori, a cold and deadly serious prisoner who together with a few other female convicts, escape from a prison truck into the wilderness. 

Their survival skills are tested to the limit as the wardens attempt to track them down.  But then again, these convicts are murderers (most of them of their own kin – though we learn that the crimes were committed out of necessity borne from an intense hatred for men), so do expect a merciless fight to the end. 

Directed by Shunya Ito, Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 is the second installment of the ‘Sasori’ trilogy, now considered a touchstone of the pinku genre, as it charts a more violent path despite the genre’s roots in soft-core sex and gratuitous nudity.  Often regarded as the most artistic of the three films, Jailhouse 41 is highly imaginative in its treatment of the pinky violence genre. 

Elements of surrealism permeate into the frame – sometimes done physically like a waterfall painted red (probably in post-production on the film reel) to evoke the bloody aftermath of a sickening rape and murder.  Special coloured lighting and a seemingly possessed camera (in its desire, or anxiety, to capture the women in bewildering ways) give the picture a sort of psychedelic quality that is fun to see.

Kaji’s performance is unforgettable.  Her piercing stare is enough to turn your knees weak.  She reminds me of the Western hero – a loner survivalist who is necessarily brutal, but comes across as coolly stoic.  She is a woman of few words, preferring to stare and exact revenge than to rage loudly at physical and sexual abuse. 

Shot mostly in natural settings, this exploitative ‘ramen western’ also sounds like one.  The breathtaking score by Shunsuke Kikuchi (more famous for his music for the popular ‘Dragon Ball Z’ television series and movies in the late 1980s and 1990s) is an innovative cross between composer Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western music, and the traditional sounds of early Osamu Kitajima, an underrated new age east-west fusion artiste. 

Jailhouse 41 may ultimately prove inconsequential for audiences demanding coherence and substance.  I find it a breath of fresh air, its artistic creativity exciting me, but there’s nothing more to it narratively or character-wise.  It delivers as you would expect, though I must say if you are expecting something B-grade, you will be surprised by how well done stylistically this movie is if you take it with a pinch of salt. 

Verdict:  Highly imaginative artistically, this 'pinky violence’ cult classic delivers as you would expect, but may ultimately prove inconsequential for audiences demanding coherence and substance.


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