Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (Japan 1972)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/21/20
Cast: Kaji Meiko

"Women commit crimes because of men."

Kaji Meiko returns as Nami Matsushima, aka "Scorpion," in this sequel to "Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion" (1972). The sadistic warden has kept her in isolation in an underground hole for a year, but she perseveres and somehow manages to get a spoon which she relentlessly sharpens into a knife. On the day of the warden's promotion, he cleans her up and marches her in front of the superintendent, where she viciously attacks the warden and sparks a riot. From there, all of the prisoners are punished at a rock quarry and Nami is raped by four men in front of everyone to strip her of her idol status. After that, Nami and six other inmates escape into the hillside and a crazy woman named Oba steals a rifle from one of the guards. Oba strives to be the alpha female in the group and sees Nami as both a rival and a threat, but Nami refuses to be intimidated. Hardships continue to befall the fugitives, and it doesn't take long for the police to catch up to them. This leads to a series of betrayals and a tour bus full of hostages, which ends in tragedy. The irrepressible Nami somehow survives and carries out her vengeance in style by slaughtering the former warden.

While the film certainly mistreats Nami, the focus is on the other inmates and the dramatic tension between them. They're all broken women and several of them are completely insane, which naturally leads to problems among the group. The female politics are also baffling, and after seeing their idol raped and degraded at the quarry, the women are filled with hatred and resentment towards Nami. The fact that Nami is alive after being raped fills them with disgust, to the point where they attempt to kill her themselves. The film is propelled by decadence and psychedelic delirium, which is both visually fascinating and emotionally disturbing. Visual anarchy reigns, which is a reflection of the inmates' anger, frustration, and shattered minds. The women are unquestionably doomed and have no firm grip on reality, so it's only a matter of time before they fall. Even Oba fails to consider and acknowledge the inevitability of her gun running out of bullets, which has dire consequences. Throughout the entire affair, Nami is the only one who remains stoically calm and collected. She's more of a passive observer than anything, and she's so unresponsive that she could easily just melt into the background if she weren't so incredibly gorgeous.

Even though the film doesn't revolve around Nami, she's the film's anchor and the glue that makes it work. Kaji Meiko and her impossibly lustrous hair are stunning, and her penetrating gaze is bone-chilling. The other actresses look quite shabby in comparison, which I'm guessing was a deliberate decision. The film also makes sure that no one's hair comes even close to competing with hers. She speaks only five words in the entire film, which adds to her mysterious and intoxicating allure. Her piercing eyes and defiant mouth say more than words ever will, but the words she chooses to use are chilling and powerful.

It's a big budget production and the cinematography is rather avant-garde. The look and style of the film raises it above similar women-in-prison exploitation films, and creates a surrealistic atmosphere. Nearly all of the interior shots use blue-green filters, which gives the actors a sickly pallor and implies that they're not quite human or that they're half-dead and living as demons. What's interesting about this is that the trailer for the film doesn't include the color variations, and looks much more natural and attractive. I'm really curious to know if the coloration was included in the theatrical release, or if that was added when the films were remastered for disc.