Written by: Carroll Jenkins on October 24th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 2004
Director: Sadaaki Haginiwa
Writers: Keita Oki, Bun Kitazawa
Cast: Aki Hoshino, Emi Kitagawa, Ren Suzuki, Ami Natsui, Junko Maru, Debitto Itô, Ryû Kanô, Momo Iizawa
DVD Released: December 16th, 2008
Approximate Running Time: 83 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Letterboxed Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Japanese
DVD Release: Section 23
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.98
La Femme Nikita and The Black Cat both focus on a single pre-selected criminal candidate for secret assassin training. But what if the training were communal, with the entire ‘student body’ involved, and only the most talented promoted to the next level? And what if it were an exploitation / pinku flick?
Death Row Girls manages to be a classic exploitation romp that doesn’t forget to be an actual movie with characterization and plot. Staples of the genre: training scenes, solitary confinement, psychoanalytical mind control, and escape attempts are spiced with catfights, bath scenes, nude group hosedowns, sex with guards, and a creepy midget that’s always sneaking around.
The acting is far above normal sexploitation / pinku / WIP standards, as are the editing, script, and [digital] cinematography. Filmed mostly on location, the brick prison and catacombs is an exquisite background that becomes a character in itself. Greatly reminiscent of Fort Macon in North Carolina, built in 1826, it could just as well have been filmed there.
Aki Hoshino’s early scenes as Prisoner Number 1316 are rather campy as she hysterically shouts everyone down, but that’s all per the script. When she later retreats into Clint Eastwood / Sharon Stone laconic mode, she’s not bad. Even more impressive are the many JAV idols (adult stars) who portray her fellow inmates. Here the girls are present without the excessive makeup generally favored for photo shoots, and they look quite natural. Well, Aki actually had CT scans to prove the lack of artificial enhancement, but Emi Kitagawa need not bother. She may have the worse set since Rene Bond, but she’s a capable actress. Ren Suzuki handles the simulated sex scenes and Ami Sakurai is on hand as well, but most shocking is the sweet and adorable performance from Momo Izawa, one of the all-time Bukkake queens.
This direct-to-video feature is, unfortunately, presented in non-anamorphic 1:78 widescreen. Visual is still good, and sound is not a problem. English subtitles are rather Americanized with lots of familiar swear words, but that just adds to the grindhouse style charm.
Death Row Girls is a well balanced sexploitation action adventure that is bound to disappoint hard core niche fans – not enough sex, not enough action, not enough budget. If only it had an ambiguous ending, then it would be sexploitation nirvana.