Next time an injured woman in handcuffs passes out in Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger's arms, he'll think twice about sticking around to see what happens next. (Not that such things happen frequently, mind you.)
"Wait—your thing is all messed up!"—Some floozy, upon discovering Kudo's torture-mangled penis, in one of the swiftest scenes of character establishment ever filmed
This is the fourth installment in the Female Prisoner #701 saga, the series that inspired Tarantino's Kill Bill. Unlike the three Shunya Ito efforts, this one had director Yasuharu Hasebe at the helm.
Going in, I knew none of this. I simply knew that it had a long, anime-sounding title and had a wicked shot of a gal with a sniper rifle on the cover. Adding to my shame, I've seen none of the other Female Prisoner #701 films or either part of Kill Bill, which basically makes me the least qualified critic to review this film. Good—shall we trudge on, then?
Facts of the Case
Nami, aka The Scorpion (Meiko Kaji, Yakuza Burial: Jasmine Flower), is on the lam, helping a bride get ready for her big day. A gang of thugs interrupts the ceremony and hauls her away. Turns out that these brutish thugs led by Kodama (Yumi Kanei) are the cops, and they'll stop at nothing to get Nami back behind bars.
Nami escapes and collapses into the arms of a forlorn nudie booth technician named Kudo (Masakazu Tamura, Under the Banner of Samurai). The Scorpion couldn't have found a better ally: Kudo was abused by the same police who are seeking her. They hole up in an old dissident hideout.
Soon enough the police will catch up to them. Will Kudo be able to resist torture and keep Nami's whereabouts secret? Or will The Scorpion have to settle another betrayal?
I hate it when the cover shows some badass shot (in this case, a tall woman in a black trenchcoat and black, wide-brimmed hat wielding a long, black rifle) and I spend the whole movie waiting for it, only to have the shot fail to materialize. That mild disappointment aside, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion: Grudge Song is an impressive dose of Japanese violence, action, and sex.
Grudge Song has one main theme, but it's a doozy: Crooked cops are the worst human beings imaginable. Hasebe misses no opportunity to depict the black hearts of the police. From torture, urination, and rape to more quaint acts like killing and false arrest, the police barrel through this film like a pack of rabid, feral dogs. I cannot recall a more graphic, unsympathetic portrayal of a police officer than Kodama. He is cruel but competent, and nearly mad with ill-gained power. There are no lines he won't cross.
A secondary theme is the mythic qualities of our heroine, Nami. She literally fades into and out of this movie like a spectre. Her reputation looms like a shadow, even though Meiko Kaji does very little to establish the character. She simply is, like the air or the pavement, and she'll kill you in a heartbeat. Nami's malice becomes clear only in a bizarre third act, which has her cooped up in a female prison swabbing down the gallows to keep them spotless. The symbolism flies like crows before a storm: the domestic act of scrubbing the floor juxtaposed with her impending execution is a striking image.
That mythical quality and the surreal brutality of the police are the result of style and composition more than acting. The actors overplay or underplay their characters in a stilted ballet. Somehow, the message transcends the acting. Cinematographer Hanjiro Nakazawa and editor Tomio Fukuda deserve a lot of the credit: Nakazawa makes plain scenes come alive, and Fukuda makes them kinetic. Media Blasters provides a transfer that is relatively free of print damage. The colors are washed out, the contrast is mediocre, and detail waffles between good and somewhat blurry. It looks like what it is: a faded seventies print.
The score is sparse, with mostly natural sound effects and environmental music. The snippets of music are plaintive and edgy, a good fit for Nami's character. The audio track doesn't highlight this music very well: It is a thin, compressed mono track without much character. The subtitles are clear and unobtrusive.
I'm sure there's more to say if you've seen the other Female Prisoner #701 films. Maybe this one is the best, or the weakest, or it rapes the character; I don't know. All I can say is it is a decent action flick with some hardcore police brutality, a little bit of sex, and artistic flair mixed in, with hammy acting carried by decent cinematography and editing. I can tell you that there's no sniper-in-a-trenchcoat action, but I'd forgotten all about that by the end. The torture, police brutality, and damned weird ending distracted me.
Not a bad flick, not bad at all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
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