Wednesday, May 30, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Jailhouse 41 (Shunya Ito, 1972)

Perhaps the strangest yet most visually stunning of the Female Convict #701 films, Jailhouse 41 mixes in some standard WIP features, but mostly involves itself with an escape story.

Meiko Kaji returns as Matsushima/Sasori/Scorpion, finding herself back in prison, and in solitary confinement. we do not know how long she has been in solitary, but with hands and feet bound she takes a spoon in her mouth and slowly grinds it into a shiv. we can assume it is quite a while. when a prison inspector makes a visit, Matsu is removed from solitary for the dog-and-pony show, and discovers that here nemesis, the warden, is going to leave the prison for a promotion. Deciding she she needs to act now, Matsu takes a final swipe...

Mastu is teamed up in an escape, after a rather brutal (if non-graphic) rape scene (the rapist being prison guards under the warden's direction), with six other female prisoners. Most are murderers or arsonists, and most are WIP archtypes having been wronged by a man and punished for their vengeance. One is particularly troublesome; Oba (Kayoko Shiraishi). Oba is quite insane, guilty of murder and infanticide. She alternately loathes and supports Matsu in their escape. She will betray her in an instant, then risk her life to save the Scorpion. Most of the other women are window dressing, and follow Oba as their Alpha.

Now, many of us know that the Scorpion films, along with Kaji's portrayals of Lady Snowblood, are huge influences on Quentin Tarrantino's Kill Bill films, and Jailhouse 41 just might be the most influential. The sets go from stark locations (including a landfill) to beautifully stylized sound stages that remind one of theatre more than an attempt to recreate the outdoors indoors (think of the fight between The Bride and O-Ren-Ishii). There is also a bit of a supernatural element to them that I do not recal from the other Scorpion films.

This is only just barely a standard Women in Prison film, but is beutifully done, and stylisticly awesome. Kaji is wonderful as always in the role of Matsu, speaking perhaps five words in the entire film. Somehow you always know her intent, regardless. If you are interested in this series, the original and Jailhouse 41 are the way to go. They just might get you hooked.

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