Art House meets the Grind House in director Shunya Ito’s sequel from the seminal Sasori series “Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41”, inspired by Toru Shinohara’s manga of the same name. The series would span four films, all of which graced by Pinky Violence’s reining queen Meiko Kaji in the title role of Matsu or as the other inmates refered to her as “Sasori” (Scorpion). Meiko would leave the series with her final performance as in 1973’s Grudge Song, which would see her heading over to TOHO Studios, and into her most recognized role of Lady Snowblood. Three years later Toei Studios would again revisit the Sasori series, with two “New Female Prisoner Scorpion” films, each cast with different leads in the title role most notably Yumi Takigawa of School of the Holy Beast fame starring in the first of the new adaptations.
Jailhouse 41, second in the series begins one year after Matsu’s return to prison from her previous escape and murderous rampage on those that had wronged her in the preluding Female Prisoner #701 - Scorpion. Once again we find Matsu bound in a heap on the damp stone floor of solitary confinement, however defiant as always Matsu resigns to grinding a spoon into a shank use her teeth to grate it against the surrounding rock.
The begrudged warden (Fumio Watanabe) pays a visit to Matsu, glaring down upon her every bit as embittered towards her as ever for the loss of his right eye. He informs Matsu of his impending promotion, and the eminent arrival of the prison inspector for of which she will finally receive the opportunity to see daylight. Matsu is promptly assaulted by the forceful blasts of a firehouse, and dragged to assemble with the other prisoners in formation to meet inspection. Slowly the inspector and warden make their way down to Matsu, who after listening to the warden describes her as a lost cause makes a frantic lunge for his left and last remaining eye using her newly crafted shank just missing the mark leaving a gash under the left eye.
Inspired the other prisoners begin to riot, a handful of whom pounce onto the terrified inspector, who had just moments ago wet himself in fright and now cringes cowering as the girls begin removing his pants. Yet before the female inmates intentions can be realized, matters are quickly dispelled and contained by the guards’ gun fire. Enraged the warden declares sever punishment for all involved; only later to stop the guards from their menial abuses to Matsu as he has something far more sinister in mind. The warden instructs four guards, dressed in brown robes and masked to assault Matsu. They proceed to taunt and torment her, eventually raping her in as the other prisoners watch from above horrified.
Shortly after while being transported, some of the female prisoners become enraged that Matsu didn’t try to kill herself after facing such disgrace and humiliation, and being to batter and beat her mercilessly until she appears to finally give out and pass away. One of the prisoners begins frantically to pound on the cab to the two armed drivers, proclaiming that Matsu had died. The guards promptly stop, and head to the back of the truck to investigate. While being looked over by a guard, Matsu jerks awake using the chain from her shackles to choke the closest guard. When the other tries to intervene, he is also blindsided from behind by one of the other prisoners allowing for the 7 prisoners on the truck to make their hasty escape to the near by mountains.
Trouble only surmounts further while avoiding the pursuit of police and prison officials, with the eventual savage rape and murder of one of the 7 escapees by a group of tourists who just so happen to reside in the society the girls were supposedly put away to protect. This sends the girls into frenzy, taking the tourists and their companions as hostages while implementing their own crude brand of justice.
Jailhouse 41 takes an already dark series, and pushes it even further. We find Matsu even more so withdrawn into her self; she rarely speaks; only stares blankly with coldly saddened, calculating and most assuredly rage filled eyes. Meiko Kaji in conjunction with Shunya Ito’s skilled and precise direction and rabid editing did an absolutely phenomenal job conveying the raw emotion and conviction behind Matsu’s eyes. It’s absolutely chilling, yet heart breaking at the same time to see a woman so conformed to her hate fueled designs for revenge and disillusionment with the cruel world that surrounds her.
The violence Jailhouse 41 is just as grim and brutal as ever, with the added pessimistic overtones heightened to an astonishing level. The women here are constantly berated inward by their atrocities and what they’ve become, at odds with their established view from society. They lash out in anger, frantically trying to alleviate their ever diminishing sense of self worth. Tears are shed, and the bodies fall right along with them. In a truly standout moment of savagery Matsu lashes out at a prison guard, strangling him from behind as the camera whirls around her with a dizzying circled frenzy as the life slowly withers from the guard, presumably one of the four who had raped Matsu just moments earlier.
Another notable distinction from the previous entry is the increased intermingling of surrealistic imagery and interpretive social commentary amongst the narrative. Ito successfully merges the two without muddying the progression or adding needless distraction. As a result we are left with a visual treat, in combination with the lurid camera movements and perspective anglings continued from the manor perfected in the previous installment.
I would place the music from the Sasori series unquestionably at the top of the Pinky Violence heap, and quite possibly well beyond. Whether it be the soft lullings of Meiko Kaji’s "Woman's Incantation", or her soulful resigned pleadings in the now renowned "Urami Bushi" (Grudge Song) which hauntingly echoes her dismay and desire for revenge driven by a jazzy score reminiscent of the early spy films of the 1960’s.
The standard of sex and sleaze continues minus the saturation of nudity, where as women are once again treated as meager trinkets to be played with and forced to serve at will to their male attacker’s perverse pleasures. But in true Pinky fashion, retribution is enacted ten fold with their violators dying wonderfully grizzled and horrendous deaths.
This is hardly your standard “Women in Prison” film; even in a series that already well outshined its proceeding European and American counterparts. In fact after the first 20 minutes or so the film quickly changes pace completely, with all of the action happening outside the prisons walls. It goes to say, if you enjoyed the first one you’ll most likely love this one too. The Sasori series offers more than your usual fare of exploitation, drenched in artistic vision and mesmerizing images yet still dripping with all the excesses that propelled the exploitation genre to financial riches.
Bluntly, this is highly recommended! I would however suggest seeking out first in the series if you haven’t done so already, although Jailhouse 41 easily holds up as a stand alone entry.