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Female Prisoner Scorpion Box Set Arrow Video Blu-ray Review

15 August 2016 | Features, Reviews | by Raul J. Vantassle

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New from Arrow Video is the Blu-ray/DVD release of the complete Female Prisoner Scorpion collection, featuring legendary cult movie actress Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood and Stray Cat Rock series) as the stoic and deadly prisoner who comes to be referred to as Scorpion.

This exploitation series falls under multiple subgenres including women in prison films, revenge films, and Japanese pinky violence.

While it is comparable to similar pictures such as Coffy, Ms. 45, and Thriller, it stands above them because of its distinctive artful flare, bold visuals, and outstanding lead actress.

While these movies are innovative and stunningly creative visually, Arrow Video’s restoration on this series doesn’t live up to their normally impressive track record. It is for that reason that I am going to give both individual ratings for each movie and an overall rating of the whole boxset.

 

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION

Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion

This is the origin story of Nami Matsushima and how she ended up becoming the Scorpion. She falls in love with a cop who betrays her and gets her sent to prison for crimes that she didn’t commit.

In prison, she continuously attempts to escape and goes through various forms of mistreatment as the prison warden tries to break her down. Eventually she escapes and takes revenge on all of the people that had a role in her imprisonment.

While this is a standard women in prison story and may lack on substance, it greatly makes up for it in first time director Shunya Ito’s masterful visuals and style. Making up for a relatively low budget, Ito uses creative camera angles, striking colors, and set design tricks that would normally used in the theater.

Without giving away anything, there are so many memorable sequences in this that are highly inventive. The use of light and shadow and red and green colors on the character’s faces are reminiscent of Japanese horror films and the Kabuki Theater.

As she is in each picture, Kaji excels in the role of Scorpion. She rarely speaks, conveying all of her emotions through her eyes and facial gestures. When she escapes prison, she dons an all black outfit with a large black hat that almost covers one of her eyes.

The imagery has become iconic and has been describing as looking demon like at times. While there is a large amount of nudity and several rape scenes, it doesn’t feel overly exploitative and necessary for the plot.

Rating: 8/10

 

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION JAILHOUSE 41, (aka JOSHUU SASORI: DAI-41 ZAKKYO-BO, aka SCORPION: FEMALE PRISONER CAGE #41), Meiko Kaji, 1972

Scorpion is back in prison and has been in solitary confinement for almost a year, becoming a mythical figure and hero to the other prisoners. The warden decides have the guards rape her in front of the other prisoners to make an example out of her and turn the other prisoners against her.

While being transported back from a rock quarry, Scorpion and six other prisoners escape taking them across copper mine mountains, into a small village occupied an old woman, and onto a bus with a group of hostages.

This one changes up the story. Previously her main adversaries were the men who cost her freedom and the male prison guards and warden.

In this one, she faces the scorn of the fellow prisoners because of her refusal to act while she is being raped. Her main rival is Hide Oba, wonderfully played by Yukie Kawaga in her first on screen role. Her performance is outstanding and over the top in a theatrical manner, calling to her experience as an actress in the theater.

Once again the direction from Ito is outstanding and visual creativity contains elements that borrow from surrealism and horror. There are at least two major sequences that are highly inventive and borrow creative tricks that would normally be seen in the theater.

Ito once again uses great angles and dramatic lighting effects, evoking horror elements with lighting that you wouldn’t normally see in this type of genre film. This one is far less graphic sexually than the previous one, with minimal nudity but slightly more violence and spraying blood.

This one stands out as the best in the series because of its strong story, memorable visual sequences, and great performances by Kaji and Kawaga.

Rating: 9/10

 

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE

Beast Stable

Scorpion is out and on the run, branded as public enemy number one. Hunted by the police, she finds refuge with a prostitute who is having an incestuous relationship with her mentally retarded brother. She ends up having to take on a local yakuza group and brothel house that is run by an ex-prison mate.

This has to be the most exploitative of the series, featuring nudity, incest, and a great deal of graphic violence. Scorpion’s character has evolved as she gains a friend and shows signs of emotion for the first time; as she cries and smiles on a few occasions.

Her vengeance is also not just for her own sake, but for a prostitute and her unborn child that both died because of the yakuza. Ito’s direction is just as great in this as the previous two, with the lighting and shadows going even deeper into the horror motif.

Missing are the bold theatrical set tricks, but there are still several creative sequences that make this one memorable. The female villain is so outlandish and unusual, carrying a more masculine look to her that evokes memories of when male Kabuki actors portrayed female characters.

While the story and acting are well done, this one is just a shade below Jailhouse #41 because of its lack of creative set tricks.

Rating: 8/10

 

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: #701’s GRUDGE SONG

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In the final appearance of Kaji as Scorpion, Yasuharu Hasebe assumes the directorial duties and we see a new softer side to the Scorpion character.

She meets and falls in love with an ex-radical who has suffered victimization from the police and seems to be very similar to her. He betrays her and she ends up back in prison, with the threat of a death sentence looming close.

This was a radical change story wise and visually compared to the previous three. Ito felt that the third one was as far as the story should go and nothing else could be said about the character, but the studio went forward with another one because it was a huge moneymaker.

The story follows what would be the most logical character development, but the changes result in many fans disliking this installment in the series. She falls in love and has consensual sex for the first time since she gave her virginity in the first movie.

This is the first male character that is not completely evil and the viewer is given reasons to feel sorry for this sympathetic and flawed person. When she goes back into prison the guards are no longer male, replaced for female guards.

While the story is decent, Hasebe’s direction falls flat compared to Ito’s work on the first three motion pictures. Gone are the gorgeous visuals and impressive camerawork.

Only in the final 15 minutes or so do we see some visual flare that is reminiscent of the series. That small amount of time isn’t enough to put this one on the same level as the others.

Rating: 6/10

 

Extras

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LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
•Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (4000 copies)
•Brand new 2K restorations of all four films in the series presented on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
•Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays) for all films
•Optional English subtitles for all films
•Double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks
•Reversible sleeves for all films featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
•Booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens, a brand new interview with Toru Shinohara, creator of the original Scorpion manga and an archive interview with Meiko Kaji by Chris D. illustrated with original stills

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION
•Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (The Raid)
•Shunya Ito: Birth of an Outlaw, an archive interview with the director
•Scorpion Old and New, a new interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira
•Theatrical Trailers for all four films in the series

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41
•Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse
•Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito
•Designing Scorpion, a new interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana
•Original Theatrical Trailer and Teaser

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE
•Newly filmed appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger
•Shunya Ito: Directing Meiko Kaji, an archive interview with the director
•Unchained Melody, a new visual essay by Tom Mes on the career of Meiko Kaji
•Original Theatrical Trailer and Teaser

FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: #701’s GRUDGE SONG
•Newly filmed appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts)
•Yasuharu Hasebe: Finishing the Series, an archive interview with the director
•Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe
•They Call Her Scorpion, a new visual essay by Tom Mes on the film series
•Original Theatrical Trailer

There are a load of extras in this set, with at least three videos on each disc totaling around an hour. Combined that’s around four hours of extras from various film critics and crew that worked on these pictures.

The restoration is the real issue with this set when making a decision on purchasing it. It is one of the poorest jobs that have been done by Arrow Video, with some people complaining that this tends to happen with their Japanese film restorations.

There are moments while watching where it feels like I was watching it during the 1980’s on a television with a bad connection. It has times when there are these slightly visible lines of white dots.

I think that this set could have been cleaned up a little bit better, so fans that already own a previous release are going to want to take this into consideration when purchasing this set. The question for those fans is going to be whether the extras and insert booklet make up for the subpar restoration.

Overall Boxset Rating: 6/10

Author Bio: Raul J. Vantassle is a jazz musician whose key strokes move about the page creating an explosion of formlessness to form, or just total bullshit. His heroes include John Waters, Robert Crumb, Charles Bukowski, and the Cobra Commander. His Knowledge of film goes across the board but he specializes in Asian and cult cinema. He may be the filthiest person alive. You can visit his blog here.

 

 


   

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