Another exceptional exploitation classic from Japan's infamous Toei Studios, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, stars Meiko Kaji as a tight-lipped toughie named Matsu. A notoriously tenacious and deadly convict, Matsu is more infamously, and aptly, known as Scorpion among the hardened female prison populace. Thrown and locked away alone inside a dark and exceedingly dank underground cell for nearly a year, Matsu lies on the cold stone floor, the thick metal cuffs cutting and chaffing at her pale wrists and ankles.
With defiance in her eyes and a metal spoon clenched between her teeth, Matsu repeatedly scrapes the eating utensil across the floor, wearing away the spoon's rounded edges. Above Matsu the door to her hellish cell bursts open and her arch adversary, a diabolical one-eyed prison warden, who lost his other peeper at the lethal hands of Matsu, peers down at his pitiful-looking prisoner. Believing he has finally bested and broken Matsu, the warden begins berating and threatening her before nearly drowning poor Matsu with a lengthy high-powered water hosing.
It turns out that an official prison inspector is soon to arrive and the warden is up for a big promotion. The prison warden parades his prisoners for the inspector who seems altogether pleased with the prison and the warden's performance. Unbeknownst to the warden however, Matsu, aka Scorpion, still has some sting left as she strikes at the warden, trying to scoop out his one good eye with her sharp metal shiv. Shocked and frightened, the inspector soils himself and a prison riot erupts soon thereafter.
Narrowly escaping Matsu's wrath and total blindness, the warden "sees" to it that Matsu is given a proper humiliation by having her brutally raped by a rabid gang of goons in front of the female prisoners who lionize her. However this soul-crushing debasement utterly feeds Matsu's silent rage, propelling her and a ragtag group of female prisoners toward a blood-spattered trail of ruthless revenge that gives new meaning to the word manslaughter.
Like Toho's popular Lady Snowblood films, which also star the talented Meiko Kaji, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 was inspired by a popular Japanese comic book. Due in part to this, the film is a hyper-stylized action yarn full of vivid imagery and a ferocious amount of imagination. Oscillating between horrific butchery and poetic beauty, the movie is an exquisite eyeful of cinematic virtuosity that excels within, and exceeds, its exploitative origins.
As the character Matsu, Meiko Kaji gives a great, mostly silent performance (in total I believe she has two lines of dialogue). The character is a classic stoic bad-ass that Kaji manages to bring to life wonderfully, conveying everything with her eyes, facial expressions and body language. In addition to Kaji, another standout among the great cast is Kayoko Shiraishi as Oda, an infanticidal madwoman. Oda serves as the Judas to Matsu, who is at times portrayed as being a Christ figure - a popular parallel often drawn in '70s Japanese exploitation films, especially when the heroine is being ruthlessly tormented and tortured.
With Jailbreak 41 director Shunya Ito, who directed the first three Female Convict Scorpion films in a series comprised of six, has made the best WIP (women in prison) movie I have ever seen. Surprisingly bereft of the usual plethora of nudity, the film is nevertheless brimming with enough violence, action and murderous mayhem, to please even the most hardcore genre fans. Incorporating some artistically inventive storytelling techniques and a veritable feast of visual thrills, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is cinema at its most astounding and an undeniable trash-art masterpiece.
The Image DVD -* which unfortunately is currently out of print, but can still be found and is well worth hunting for - presents the film in its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Ignoring some minor scratches and speckling, the film looks very good, highlighting the movie's beautiful and rich cinematography. The original mono Japanese soundtrack is the only audio option, but it sounds reasonably good, and the English subtitles, though a little soft as they are burnt onto the film, are easy to read. The only extras are the film's theatrical trailer and liner notes written by Chris D. - author of the excellent Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film. Despite the dearth of extras however, the movie itself makes the DVD an extremely attractive and worthwhile purchase.