Genre: Doom, Gloom and Very Sharp Knives
review in one breath
Still wanted for murder, Matsushima Nami aka Scorpion hides herself in the seedy back-alleys and underground sewer tunnels of Tokyo. Through happenstance she is befriended by Yuki, whose pitiful existence soon has major repercussions for Nami, all of which involve ferocity, revenge and sharp pointy knives. This is the third and final of director Ito's original series, though many Sasori films by others will follow.
|other Female Convict Scorpion films|
|Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion||1972|
|Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41||1972|
|Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable||1973|
|Female Convict Scorpion: Grudge Song||1973|
|New Female Prisoner Scorpion 701||1976|
|New Female Prisoner Scorpion Special Room X||1977|
|Female Prisoner Scorpion Murderer's Announcement||1991|
|Scorpion's Revenge / Sasori in U.S.A.||1997|
|Scorpion Female Prisoner 701||1998|
There are numerous films in the "Female Prisoner Scorpion" legacy. The first three and most important, however are those directed by Ito Shunya and starring Kaji Meiko as the formidable Scorpion. These three films comprise Ito's own directorial debut and introduced audiences to the utterly-tough, knife-wielding Matsushima Nami, aka prisoner 701 Scorpion, which subsequent decades of directors could not resist remaking and rehashing.
The three Scorpion films directed by Ito are the following:
- - Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion (1972)
- Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41 (1972)
- Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) - current review
In all of these, popular tough-girl starlette Kaji Meiko is cast in the lead role. Kaji will go on to appear in one more Scorpion film, director Hasebe Yasuhara's 1973 Scorpion: Female Prisoner 701 Grudge Song. After these inital four films will come at least four more, all casting different females in the role of heroine Nami.
To say that Kaji Meiko's actions speak louder than words in the scorpion films is truly an understatement. In this current film, she literally has a total of two terse lines in the 90 minute film (not counting "Yuki! Yuki!" which is the only thing Nami says in the first 20 minutes of the film, despite being in every scene). In lieu of words, the mere presence of Nami, accompanied by her soul-piercing gaze and her unflinching bravery (and sharp knives) remains her defining characteristics. Though each of these three films comprise one contiguous tale, with thematic overlaps amongst them, the style and central message of each remains quite distinct making for three totally unique films based upon a single shared character.
The initial film was set almost exclusively in a (women's) prison where Nami fought against particular abusive guards and remarkably evil fellow inmates. The film seemed to imply a message of liberation for women, exemplified in the final scenes of the narrative showing what appearaed to be a massive, if merely symbolic escape. The second film took place in more expansive settings, as Nami and a handful of others flee from prison across varied terrain. Here, Nami's abusers are depicted as males in general, as not a single compassionate or caring male character can be found. Instead, Ito highlights the issue of society-wide gender inequality and the fate of women therein. The second film has much less gratuitous nudity than the first, but depicted more brutal and persistent violence toward women and Nami in particular.
The current film continues this trajectory by equating Nami's struggle with a near existential plight of females. Again, not a single morally acceptable male character can be found, and rather than abuse at the hands of prison guards, this entire tale and all its victims are living openly within contemporary Tokyo society. Much of the film revolves around the pitiful existence of young women who turn to prostitution and self-degradation to survive. Ito then permeates his narrative with a sheer cruelty and hopelessness heaped upon these characters. Thus while Nami's principle nemesis is a tenaciously obsessed detective, the story culminates in her vengeance upon wider forces responsible for inhuman suffering.
The title Kemono Beya is literally translated "Beast Stable" and is generally applied to filthy places in which livestock are housed. Here, however, the term "kemomo / beast" is given a moral nuance describing a squalid, animalistic existence, seemingly devoid of "morality". The "beast stable" then refers to the small shack in which Yuki lives while she tries to make a living for herself and her retarded brother. The way in which Yuki strives to insure the survival of herself and her brother are nothing less than morally shocking, and the epitaph of "beast" in reference to her lifestyle comes directly from her own lips.
The moral depth plumbed by Beast Stable is quite profound and easily creates an thick atmosphere of (almost impenetrable) injustice against which Nami's formidable anger and revenge will be plausibly released. Of the three Ito films, this one has the most memorable message, contains the most nudity, and depicts the most gore and gushing red blood. Its notable, however, that in this tale Nami immediately secures a decent job and quickly removes herself from squalid conditions -- a clear contrast to the other female characters cast here. She also manages to remain fully clothed throughout this film (and the others) despite the amount of flesh-baring required of the other girls.
After escaping from Detective Kondo to whom she was handcuffed (by cutting of his arm and running through busy streets with a bloodied flailing arm attached to her wrist!!!), Nami seeks temporary refuge in the dirt-floor shack of the young prostitute Yuki. Yuki's existence is indeed a difficult one, spent tending her brain damaged elder brother whom she must lock in the closet while out to keep him from committing trouble. Yuki's is the only kind face Nami encounters and the two soon form a rather gloomy bond.
Utilizing skills she gained in prison, Nami finds employment as a seamstress and eventually moves to her own apartment. The horny yakuza thug downstairs soon has libidinous intentions, which inevitably lead to his painful demise. When the thug's bosses find Nami, they drug, torture and imprison her in retaliation. While being held, she witnesses a sadness which she can no longer contain, and soon detective Kondo's list of unsolved violent murders grows exponentially.
The dark wrath of the Scorpion character comes through very strongly here. It is quite remarkable that Ito has produced three quite distinct films based on this one character. Each of these seems to mature both thematically and stylistically above the prior, making this third film, in my estimation, the best.
Interestingly, the infusion of a supernatural possession which was the most impressive element in the second film reappears here as, in Nami's own words (making up one of her two lines in this film), her final climactic rampage is due to her being "possessed by the spirit of a/the dead girl". This is truly a sad, if not despicable, morality tale which elevates hopeless despair to a whole new level. But the depictions are plausible, and thus the proverbial knot in your stomach will linger long after the film has finished.
One last trivia tidbit: This film's opening and closing theme song, Urami Bushi ("Song of Vengeance"), is sung by none other than Kaji Meiko who, in her day, had quite a singing career, of sorts.
Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues.
|Best (and gloomiest) of director Ito's original "scorpion" films.||Major carnage from the start. One particularly brutal scene involving a female.||Therapeutic copulation abounds.||Remarkably gloomy yet effective moral tale emphasizing irreversible injustices against women.|