Friday, March 30, 2012

The New Female Convict Scorpion

 The original 'Female Convict Scorpion' films (from Japan's Toei) are uneven masterpieces. Made between '72 and '73, and influenced by American Women in Prison (WIP) films such as The Big Bird Cage ('72), School for Unclaimed Girls ('68), Women in Chains ('72), The Detention Girls ('70), and the French Prison Without Bars ('38), they established a new standard for the genre while adding intense surrealism and a psychedelic edge. 

The 'Scorpion' films are more brutal than most of their foreign counterparts and fit into a Japanese 'art' film category also. If you've never seen the four originals, I urge you to make haste to experience their sweet nectar.

Four years after the beautiful Meiko Kaji was immortalized in the original Scorpion pictures, Toei restarted the franchise with New Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701 ('76) . Unfortunately, Meiko Kaji did not return as the mysterious and lethal Scorpion/Nami, but newbie Ryoko Ema fills her shoes adequately, if not spectacularly.

Following a standard premise for this series, Ema is wrongly imprisoned for exposing political corruption at the highest level, and is marked for murder in a concrete hellhole run by state-sanctioned rapists and murderers. The prison's warden is a depraved maniac who supervises a staff sharing his proclivities. Although there are a few decent employees, they are forced to toe the most vile line possible.

Four years after the first series ended, this 'Scorpion' entry represents a big elevation in the series' sleaze factor. The beatings here are as nasty as they were in the original films, but the raping in this entry is harder, longer, and more frequent. Some of the set-ups reminded me of Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs in their raw sexual candor, and director Yotaka Kohira, who also made the sixth and last film, stages and frames every sequence with unbridled enthusiasm and creativity. The film doesn't capture the original film's almost orgasmic surrealism, but there are some theatrical touches that are pure poetry.

Naturally, and thankfully, Nami exerts her female power, castrates her jailers, escapes from prison, and take revenge on the animals who wronged her, but the film's final image is a dramatic mixed blessing for her.  

In New Female Prison Scorpion: Special Cellblock X, Yoko Natsuki takes the role of subdued super- feminist Scorpion/ Nami, replacing Ryoko Ema, who replaced Meiko Kaji from the originals.

Although this was made one year after the previous entry, it ignores that film's events and introduces us to the new prisoner as she is brought back to jail after yet another escape and rampage. We learn that Nami, whose rampage was not associated with the previous Nami's actions at all, has been convicted for murder, a crime she was forced to commit. One again, she is beaten and raped, and subjected to long periods of confinement, before she unleashes her girl powers once again.

This sixth film has something in common with the very first 'Scorpion' film in that much of its narrative takes place with its leading lady on the run. But, to make matters worse for her, she is handcuffed to a prison guard who hates her guts and she his. This development is a novel Eastern take on the Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis cons-on-the-run classic The Defiant Ones.

The chase sequences give the film great scope and a sense of high adventure. The relationship of dependence that develops between the chained couple is not romantically developed, but they do acquire a grudging tolerance for each other, and he quickly learns that the real pussy on this jaunt is not between the lady's legs.

This final entry in the series, like the entry above, is not as widely distributed as the original four; it's a weeping shame because both films are superior to almost all other WIP films, and proudly stand alongside the originals.

1 comment:

  1. As a confirmed WIP junkie this entire series is very special to me. Most fans seem to dismiss the last 2 films because of the absence of Meiko which is a shame. As you said, they are just as good and definitely bring the sleaze up to a new level