TRUE STORY OF A WOMAN IN JAIL: SEX HELL is another release from Impulse’s NIKKATSU EROTIC FILMS COLLECTION. While I figured there would be a woman’s prison movie as part of this series, I have to say that this one was anything but predictable on any level, and I have seen more than a few of these in my day. Even though it has all the staples of the genre - lesbianism, shower scenes, evil men, and an escape plot - SEX HELL manages to captivate and torment its viewing audience as well as the fictional characters trapped within its own labyrinthine maze of rape and steel. Let’s give th`is one a cavity search and see what form of entertainment contraband it tries to conceal from us, shall we?
The story begins as two young, comely ladies named Mayumi and Harumi are thrust within the bowels of the system. Mayumi is a somber, former nurse who was incarcerated for taking part in a plot to murder her lover’s wife during a medical procedure and then being hung out to dry alone for her role in it. Harumi is a carefree teenage prostitute who has the personality of a party girl, if not a hyper sexualized child. It isn’t long before our two estrogen-infused Asian inmates meet the other girls, including a violent Queen Bee lesbian named Hiromi, who quickly succeeds in giving Mayumi a lesson in manners by holding her down and having a girl urinate in her face after which they play a game called “plucked chicken” where they pull out her pubic hairs one by one. Harumi, however is allowed to become queen bee’s lover after she presents her with a “keister fresh” smuggled cigarette. Are you turned on, yet? I hope so, because this is what passes for a love scene in Sex Hell. Of course the male (and militant lesbian, I imagine) demographic who actually buy these movies don’t tune in for pillow talk and sweet nothings, but those used to women’s prison movies where the inmates engage in the exact same pillow fights borrowed from a campus sex comedy will be punished severely for their ignorance as swift and certainly as any of the women in this film.
Yet, this film has an odd respect for its heavier-hitting, harder characters. Much as in the case of BATTLE ROYALE, or RESERVOIR DOGS, we actually get to see candid flashback scenes involving our main characters during happier times, seeing for ourselves what they were like before the system swallowed them whole. It turns out that, Harumi, Mayumi, and even Hiromi the Queen Bee lesbian aren’t stock, cardboard characters after all, which makes their own shocking behaviors more watchable as these women find themselves play the part of victims, and soon victimizers themselves, in order to survive. If anything, it might have made the scenes hotter if my crude synopsis of the even cruder first scene didn’t scare you away. As for myself, I found this film to be a little too hardcore, but not in the way you are expecting. I am speaking of its context, not in its particular graphic depiction of sexual or violent acts. Yet, for many of you, that will be the ultimate praise for this product. I can almost read the Facebook blurb now that always accompanies these reviews: “See the film that Sinferno said was too hardcore”. Sigh….
Don’t get me wrong, I am still the self-professed warden of women’s prison movies; I love extreme content and I was overjoyed to see that the censorship blur from DEBAUCHERY would not be returning here. While there are still no depictions of pubic hair, SEX HELL compensates for this by artful, almost surgical close-up camera work and a sinister “piss and blood” aesthetic never dared in most horror movies. For example, not only are depictions of urination so prevalent that it immediately lends itself to a possible drinking game, but a cell door key is concealed in a bloody tampon, and a secretly pregnant inmate is forced to miscarry with a repeated kicks to the stomach. Also, summarily killed by this scene was any chance at arousal for this humble male viewer.
Still, it’s got character development; SEX HELL exceeds genre expectations, and features a coherent plot full of three-dimensional characters. I have to give it four skulls for simple technical proficiency even if it sent my libido to solitary. I am starting to think the Japanese are even more hardcore when it comes to their unrated sex films sex than the Germans or Italians are despite their “dishonorable” fear of pubic hair. In the future I am going to have to remember that when it comes to any cinema smut imported from a former Axis power, the opposite of Domestic isn’t Foreign…It’s Savage.
Extras include newly translated English Subtitles and those ever-present liner notes from Japanese film scholar Jasper Sharp.