Directed by: Shunya Ito
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama, Isao Natsuyagi

Women In Prison (WIP) films are usually pretty reliable for a few things, namely a lot of gratuitous nudity, lesbian scenes, catfights, abuse, cruelty, torture, rape and evil prison guards. They are rarely anything special when it comes to story or character development but FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION goes above and beyond what you'd normally expect from a WIP film. While it does exhibit nudity, violence and sadistic guards, SCORPION also has a nice strong lead, a great director, some sweet action scenes and an unusual artful edge to it. It's no ordinary WIP film.

Nami Matsushima (Kaji) is roped into helping the love of her life Sugimi (Natsuyagi) with a drug sting he is pulling at work. After being set up by Sugimi and being raped she has only one thing on her mind: revenge. An attempt to slice up Sugimi with a knife on the front steps of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters (not a smart move) goes wrong and she is arrested and thrown in prison. Although strangely Nami refused to testify against Sugimi, he still sees her as a big problem and makes a deal with another prisoner Katagiri (Yokoyama) for Nami to fall victim to an 'accidental' death in prison. But Nami has her heart set on escaping and seeking revenge against her former lover, and nothing will stop her.

The film begins with a jailbreak. Nami and another prisoner have escaped and are on the run and the warden is understandably pissed. The dogs are released and eventually Nami is returned to the prison where all of the inmates are punished for her escape attempt. Soon she not only has the prisoners against her but also another inmate Katagiri who is out to kill her, and the sadistic guards who are set on breaking her. A riot breaks out giving Nami the perfect chance to escape and get her revenge.

Despite the rape and abuse Nami is less a victim than a kind of anti-hero. She stays determined and defiant at all times and no matter how hard the prisoners and guards try to break her she stands strong and perseveres. The most amazing thing however is that she utters barely a single word (in fact this is true for the entire series of films) and instead displays her thoughts and feelings via strong facial expressions. And Meiko Kaji does a great job playing the strong, silent lead. She is beautiful and cruel, fragile and strong all at the same time. She also happens to sing the film's theme song which was later used by Quentin Tarantino in his strong female / martial arts homage KILL BILL.

The most unusual angle (and one of the highlights) is the way that SCORPION manages to so brilliantly combine the elements of trashy exploitation with a surreal arthouse style. One of the best examples is when Nami is being chased through the showers by a demonic looking Katagiri wielding a shard of glass. The experimental camera angles and lighting used throughout the film are not what you'd expect from such a movie, but they are very welcome indeed. FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION is arguably the best film in the series and is a fantastic example and introduction to the WIP subgenre. For exploitation fans this one is a must see.

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