Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Female Convict 701 Scorpion (Shunya Itō, 1972)

AKA Joshuu 701-Gô: Sasori, 女囚701号 さそり.

I have wanted to see this, or perhaps one of the sequels, for years. Thanks to Netflix and a gentle nudge by Dr. Morbius, I have finally gotten off my ass. Here is the run down:

Nami Matsushima, "Matsu the Scorpion," is imprisoned after being set-up by her detective boyfriend, Sugimi, who uses her to facilitate a drug bust. Guess what, he's a dirty cop. Once in prison she becomes the target of the trustees and the guards. When her former boyfriend and his boss want her eliminated things start to get rough.

This film is typically categorized as a Pinky Violence as well as WIP, it is also a Women's Revenge film. It was originally a Manga by Tōru Shinohara, and spawned three sequels with the original star, Meiko Kaji; FPS: Jailhouse 41, FPS: Beast Stable and FPS:#701's Grudge Song.


There are a host of standard WIP elements here, but is also a lot like Cool Hand Luke. While the immediate cause is not defined, the trustees and prison staff have it out for Matsu. Later they are urged by Sugimi and his boss, and conceivably their Yakuza overlords, to give the girl trouble. Matsu is unbreakable and, like Paul Newman's Luke, can withstand the worst torture that can be dealt. She lives to get her revenge on those who imprisoned her, and will not be denied.


As a character, Matsu is both awesome and troubling. Her drive is Herculean, but in a few instances her methods are questionable. In one scene she is thrown in Solitary, and for some reason another prisoner is there in the cell. Matsu perhaps seduces, perhaps rapes, the other prisoner. It turns out she is a police woman, though there is little reason for Matsu to know this; unless she deduced the truth from the fact that she was not solitary in Solitary. Later, she burns one of her tormentors to death.

However, if you are on her good side, you stay there. And fortunately, Matsu seems to make the right kind of friends. One, below, goes after the trustee (in orange) who is cheating other prisoners.


And then there is poor Yuki...

There is also a lot of great Manga/Anime stylings. Plenty of odd angles and camera reversals, as well as set pieces that melt into each other. The scene where Matsu is raped by the criminals which Sugimi is after is shot through a glass floor, so you see the attack much as Matsu does. The most Manga part is the shower fight where the enraged trustee turns demonic looking, displaying her rage at being bested by Matsu. Those who are bigger film buffs than I might enjoy the skill presented in the hand-held camera work. I am going to say that there was no Steadycam used, a) because it is shaky at times, and b) I don't believe it was in wide use (if invented at all) in 1972. There is quite a bit of handheld use, and they pull off a Steadycam style very well. They are not going for the shaky fake documentary look that was oh-so popular in '90s television. They were going for a Steadycam look, despite lack of access to the device.



This is an interesting and fairly compelling film. If you like Takishi Miike, this is a good one to check out, as the cartoonish yet severe violence certainly inspired his work. Also, Matsu's bility to take punishment is certainly mocked by Kakihara from Ichi the Killer.

8 comments:

dr.morbius said...

I don't know if I would describe the look of the first two Scorpion movies as "anime/manga" so much as I would describe it as theatrical. I once described the second one as Caged Heat staged as Noh theater and filmed by the mutant offspring of Mario Bava and Masaki Kobayashi. The movie it most resembles is Kwaidan, and it doesn't resemble it much. But then, the manga tradition in Japanese film is pretty long, so maybe you're right.

I'll be interested to see your thoughts on the others in the series (from my perspective, Grudge Song, the fourth, is entirely dispensable, but the other two are awesome beyond belief).

Darius Whiteplume said...

There are indeed a lot of great theatrical element, particularly the memory of Matsu's rape/framing, where the scene pulls back (a few times IIRC) to change setting. Also, the last image I posted, of the work-yard (just before the riot, I believe) immediately reminded me of Gone with the Wind.

My experience with Asian cinema is pretty limited. Old Jackie Chan films, Akira Kurisawa, and Stephen Chow comprise the bulk. I imagine the anime style draws from theatre/cinema as well, just as our comic books are just soap opera storyboards.

dfordoom said...

Meiko Kaji is awesome, as always.

Darius Whiteplume said...

She definitely plays the hard-ass well. I would not mess with Matsu :-D

Tor Hershman said...

If you'd care to view the video with Mae West singin' "Criswell Predicts," it's @ me wee blog.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Thanks, Tor. It is always good to see one of the apexes of femininity. Mae ain't bad either ;-D I loved Criswell in "Orgy of the Dead."

Erick said...

I have given your blog a "You make me SCREAM!!" blog award --

http://wonderfulwonderblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/i-scream-you-scream.html

Darius Whiteplume said...

Thanks, Erick. Much appreciated. I'll take a look.

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