Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 14th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1972 (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion / Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41), Japan, 1973 (Female Prisoner Scorpion Beast Stable / Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song)
Directors: Shunya Ito (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, Female Prisoner Scorpion Beast Stable), Yasuharu Hasebe (Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song)
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Yayoi Watanabe, Fumio Watanabe, Kayoko Shiraishi, Takashi Fujiki, Koji Fujiyama, Masakazu Tamura, Yumi Kanei, Hiroshi Tsukata
BluRay released: July 25th, 2016 (UK) / August 9th, 2016 (USA)
Approximate running times: 87 Minutes (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion), 89 Minutes (Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41), 87 Minutes (Female Prisoner Scorpion Beast Stable), 88 Minutes (Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (All Films)
Rating: 15, 18 (UK), NR (USA)
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region A,B / Region 1,2 NTSC
Retail Price: $128.99 (USA) / £59.99 (UK)
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion – The film opens with a bang as Mastu (Meiko Kaji) and Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe) have pulled off a daring broad day light prison break out. After Mastu and Yuki are caught the warden cuts back on all the prisoner’s food rations and this leads to the other prisoners hatred of Mastu. As punishment for trying to escape Mastu is now in solitary confinement.
She has a flash back about Sugimi a narcotics officer who wants Mastu to infiltrate the night club owned by Yakuza organization and found out the smugglers routes. The Yakuza are on to her and they take her into a back and rape her. Sugimi enters the room, but he doesn’t help he has betrayed her and joined forces with the Yakuza. Mastu is sent to prison after a trying to kill Sugimi for betraying her. After an all-out riot Mastu escapes and kills those who had betrayed her.
Shunya Ito’s directorial debut Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion is full of hallucinatory surreal vision that could have come straight from hell. Meiko Kaji recently left Nikkatsu studios when they decided to cease their production of mainstream action and youth films and focus more on pink films and Roman porn. One of her first jobs with Toei, Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion as Nami Matsushima, a part which she would play four times and with the success of the Lady Snowblood films Meiko Kaji was one of the most preeminent female action stars of the 1970’s. Shunya Ito’s direction is inspired and what he achieves on an artistic level for such a low budget and genre film is astonishing. Meiko Kaji’s performance is dead on and she does for Mastu what Clint Eastwood did for Blondie in The Man with No Name trilogy. Ultimately Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion is the Citizen Kane of women in prison films.
Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 – A young woman named Mastu is wrongly sent to prison because of her boyfriend’s betrayal. In prison the warden and guards brutalize Mastu and the other prisoners. With the help of six other convicts, she escapes from prison.
Plot wise the film picks up right where its predecessor left off. Content wise Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is essentially a surreal road trip in which the lead character Mastu and six other inmates take the viewers on a hellish journey. Where the first film spent the majority of the film in a prison. This one opens things up. With only a handful of scenes in the opening taking place in the prison.
From production stand point the visuals, editing and performances are all exceptional. Director Shunya Ito creates what is arguably his strongest visual statement of the three Female Prisoner films that he directed. Whether it be barren landscapes, forests or landfills covered in debris the size of mountains. Not a single frame is wasted in this film. Some of the film’s more iconic moments include a police guard who genitals have been mutilated and a waterfall that flows blood red.
Meiko Kaji would star on a total of 4 films as Matsu (Sasori), Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable and Female Prisoner #701’s Grudge Song. She would later go onto star in the revenge classics Lady SnowBlood and Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance. She is perfectly cast as Mastu and her striking beauty and strong presence are felt throughout this film. Also consider the fact Mastu barely speaks over the course of the film. In the final scene where Mastu stabs the warden repeatedly Mastu now looks radiant as she is no longer in her prison clothes and she is looking glamorous as she exacts her revenge.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable – Mastu (Meiko Kaji), is hiding from the police while riding on the subway. When the police spot her she tries to get away and after a detective puts his handcuffs on Mastu she pulls out a knife and chops off his arm. Yuki is having an incestuous relationship with her retarded brother whose mental condition was brought on by an accident while working at a factory. Yuki has just finished turning a trick in the graveyard when she behind a tombstone Mastu chewing on the detectives arm she hacked off and it is still attached to her because of his handcuffs. Yuki takes Matsu back to her place and nurse her back to health. Matsu awakens as Yuki’s brother is trying to rape her and as he drags her across the floor she grabs knife to fend him off. Yuki comes back just in time to convince Mastu not to kill her brother and they quickly become friends.
The mob doesn’t like when a prostitute turns tricks in their territory and to show Yuki they mean business they hold her down as Kastu the boss’s mistress rams a golf club up inside of Yuki. When Mastu refuses to kill Yuki’s brother Yuki grabs the knife only to change her own mind and she decides to keep the child inside of her fathered by her brother. Tanida lives in Mastu’s apartment building he knows her secret and he blackmails her. Later when he is murdered the mob blames Mastu and they torture her some before they inform her that she is now going to do everything they tell her too. Shot up on dope they keep Mastu in a birdcage and when a prostitute who is forced to have an abortion dies next to her Mastu pries from the dead girls hand an object. Mastu escape and kills all those one by one responsible for the for that girl’s death. The police close in on Mastu after she kills off the mob boss and they trap her in the sewer system. The police decide after all else has failed that they are going to burn Mastu out by filling the sewer with gas and lighting a match. Has Mastu finally meet her end and is Katsu safe even in prison from the Female Scorpion?
Shunya Ito director of the first three Female Prisoner films would return to direct Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable which would end up being his final film as the series director. The star of the Female Prisoner film’s Meiko Kaji would also return for Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable and one more film Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song before leaving the series. Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable like it two predecessor’s Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion and Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 are an exploitation fans wet dream come true. Shunya Ito expertly uses every inch of the frame and his stylized use of colors and editing make Female Scorpion Prisoner: Beast Stable something more than a mere exploitation film.
A few of my favorite moments are when Yuki has just left Mastu’s apartment after telling Mastu that she is pregnant with her brothers’ child. Yuki stops in front of a department store window to put some makeup on and as she is doing this Mastu is back at her apartment lighting matches watching them as they hit the floor. The scene cuts back and forth between the two as a range of emotions are shown in their eyes. Another strong scene is when Mastu visits the abortion doctor to take revenge as the room is white as can be as the reddest blood splatters on everything in the room and them camera pulls back to reveal Mastu behind a glass window looking at what she has just done.
Meiko Kaji just like the previous films plays Mastu with an economy of words and it is amazing just how much Meiko Kaji can convey just by her actions and expressions. These Female Prisoner films seem getting to more and more outrageous as the series progressed. Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable is out of the three Shunya Ito directed definitely his most accomplished film and it is too bad he directed so few films. Overall all the performances were pretty good and the more films I see with Meiko Kaji the more she impresses me.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song – Nami (Meiko Kaji) is on the run from the police after her latest prison break. The police find her hiding out at a wedding. She is hurt badly as she manages to get away once again. Kudo is a loner who works as the light man at a strip club. One evening he comes across the wounded Nami in the men’s bathroom and he takes her home to take care of her. One of the girls in the strip club informs the police that Kudo is hiding Nami. The police bring Kudo in for interrogation and when he refuses to tell them anything they are forced to let him go. After they let him go the police tail him and they quickly surround Nami and Kudo.
On the run the Nami and Kudo decide to wait for and ambush the detective who has a grudge against them. They are forced to tie up the detectives’ pregnant wife and during a struggle she accidentally fails to the street below. The police close in on them later and they are forced to go separate ways. Kudo is caught and this time the police get him to talk when they bring in his mother. Betrayed will Nami ever trust anyone ever again?
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song is the fourth and final appearance of Meiko Kaji as Sasori. The first three films were directed by Shunya Ito and for the fourth film there would be a change in the director’s chair with Yasuharu Hasebe who had previous worked with Meiko Kaji on the Stray Cat Rock series. Yasuharu Hasebe direction is filled with many subjective shots that often interplay between multiple characters and locations.
Meiko Kaji returns as Sasori and she plays the character with confidence. Her cold stare and minimal dialog are driven home by her tough a nails persona. Sasori has taken her fair share of beatings through the series. This film features some of her most brutal beatings. She is a gluten for punishment and she can give a beating just as well as she can take it. This film also marks one of the few times that Sasori has any kind of stable relationship with a man. Her relationship with Kudo shows a different side of her that is rarely seen. Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself and Kudo like all men before him betrays her.
This films main back story is about police brutality and it revolves around a character named Kudo. The police are not shown in a good light in this film and besides beating suspects they also rape one of the guards at the prison to black mail her into helping them take care of Sasori. The films spaced out score has a progressive rock feel to it that adds to the films bizarreness. Each of the four Female Prisoner Scorpion films that Meiko Kaji starred in are distinctively different form their predecessors which adds to the appeal of this series since it is like seeing something for the first time instead of an idea rehashed for the one hundredth time.
Each film comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay and all films are presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. And for this release all films have been given brand new 2k transfers. There is no denying that these new transfers look different their previous releases, most notably when it comes to the blue tint. With that being said, there are many instances where colors, black levels and image clarity are a marked improvement over the aforementioned other home video release for these films. Also grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
Arrow’s comments about the transfers.
“A set of low-contrast 35mm prints struck from the original 35mm film elements were supplied by Toei Company, Ltd. These prints were scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered 4K Northlight Scanner. Picture grading was completed on a DaVinci Resolve and thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed using PFClean software. Overall image stability and instances of density fluctuation were was also improved. All restoration work was completed at Pinewood Studios.
The images on all four Female Prisoner Scorpion films favor a noticeably cyan/blue look throughout. This look was inherent in the film materials supplied and relates to how these lab materials were created, as well as how the original elements have faded over time. With these restorations, we have aimed to present the films as close to their intended original style and appearance as possible.”
Each film comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix Japanese and newly created removable English subtitles have been included for each film. All of the audio mixes included with each film are in very good shape as dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced and robust when it needs too.
Extras are spread over four discs.
Extras for disc one include, trailers Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (2 minutes 59 seconds), Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (3 minutes 7 seconds), Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (3 minutes 4 seconds) and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song (3 minutes 11 seconds), an option to see the opening credits translated into English, an appreciation by filmmaker Gareth Evans (24 minutes 37 seconds), archive interview with director Shunya Ito titled Birth of an Outlaw (15 minutes 44 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles) and interview with assistant director Yutaka Kohira titled Scorpion Old and New (14 minutes 38 seconds, in Japanese with English).
Topics discussed in the extra with Gareth Evans include, Japanese and exploitation cinema and how Female Prisoner films have influences him as a filmmaker.
Topics discussed in the interview with Shunya Ito include, his early days in the film industry working various jobs for Toei, his time as an assistant director and director’s at Toei that he worked with, making the transition to director and his debut film Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, how he wanted to make with the Female Prisoner films that were fiction beyond fiction, not aware of the manga while the first Female Prisoner film, how Toei at the time was known for films that were more rooted into reality, filmmakers who influenced him and other films that he also directed.
Topics discussed in the interview with Yutaka Kohira include, his contribution of the first three Female Prisoner films, translating the manga for cinema, actresses and nudity, Shunya Ito, Meiko Kaji and working with Yasuharu Hasebe on Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song.
Extras for disc two include, a teaser (1 minute 44 seconds) and a trailer for Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (3 minutes 7 seconds), an option to see the opening credits translated into English, an appreciation by critic Kier-La Janisse (28 minutes 1 second), an interview with Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Shunya Ito (10 minutes 26 seconds) and interview with production designer Tadayuki Kuwana titled Designing Scorpion (16 minutes 32 seconds, in Japanese with English).
Topics discussed in the extra with Kier-La Janisse include, Female Prisoner films and revenge themed films.
Topics discussed in the interview with Tadayuki Kuwana include, costume and set design for the first three Female Prisoner films, collaborating with director Shunya Ito, the inspiration behind the clothes and few of the sets and keys scenes are discussed in depth.
Extras for disc three include, a teaser (1 minute 43 seconds) and a trailer for Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (3 minutes 4 seconds), an option to see the opening credits translated into English, an appreciation by critic Kat Ellinger (25 minutes 45 seconds), Unchained Melody, a visual essay on the career of star and icon Meiko Kaji by critic Tom Mes (21 minutes 30 seconds) and an archive interview with director Shunya Ito titled Directing Meiko Kaji (17 minutes 24 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles).
Topics discussed in the extra with Kat Ellinger include, Mieko Kaji, Shunya Ito and her thoughts on the first three Female Prisoner films.
The visual essay about Mieko Kaji with Tom Mes is essentially a career overview of her work in film and television.
Extras for disc four include, a trailer for Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song (3 minutes 11 seconds), an option to see the opening credits translated into English, an appreciation by filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (11 minutes 10 seconds, in Japanese with English subtitles), an interview with Japanese cinema critic Jasper Sharp looks over the career of Yasuharu Hasebe (16 minutes 51 seconds), a visual essay on the Scorpion series by critic Tom Mes (39 minutes 56 seconds) and an archive interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe Finishing the Series (19 minutes 45 seconds).
Topics discussed in the visual essay about the Female Prisoner films with Tom Mes, the four Female Prisoner films that Mieko Kaji starred in, New Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701, New Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701: Special Cell X, Female Prisoner: Caged! And the numerous start to video releases since the 1990’s.
Topics discussed in the interview with Yasuharu Hasebe include, cinema influences, his mentor Seijun Suzuki, Mieko Kaji and how she differed from other Japanese actresses, the Stray Cat Rock films, what he was trying to achieve with his Female Prisoner film, Roman Porno and other films that he directed.
Rounding out the extras is reversible cover art for all four films, a double-sided fold out poster of two original artworks and fifty-six-page book with cast & crew info, an essay titled Vengeance is Hers written by Chuck Stephens, two text based interviews – the first one is titled Grudge Song: an interview with Mieko Kaji conducted by Chris D. and the second one is titled The Birth of Scorpion: An Interview with Creator Toru Shinohara conducted by Yoshiki Hayashi and information about the transfers. Also included as part of this combo release are four DVD’s that have the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this box set release. Overall another excellent release from Arrow Video.
Note: This is a Limited Edition release only 4000 copies.