Judge William Lee would be a model prisoner, if he was taken captive by models.
"Invite her to the grass bath."
True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues is a Japanese version of the dependable exploitation movie subgenre: the women-in-prison film. Strip searches, bathhouse brawls, pervy guards, corrupt officials and catfights are all parts of the package. Fans of these movies know what's in store and they're going to get it. Still, the movie's delivery of these sleazy tropes doesn't diminish the accomplished filmmaking on display here. I happened to watch this DVD on the same weekend spent catching up with a few end-of-summer blockbusters. As one interchangeable action flick blurs with another disposable spectacle of muscle-headed heroes, I'm struck by how lazy and joyless mainstream movies are sometimes. What a surprising breath of sordid fresh air this import turned out to be.
This is the second film in director Kôyû Ohara's three film True Story of a Woman in Jail series. I haven't seen Ohara's True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell but my understanding is that there is no continuity running through the series. Hitomi Kozue returns in this installment as Mayumi, sharing the name of her character from the previous film but with a new history. In a flashback, we learn that Mayumi was avenging her rape by tracking down and murdering her assailants when she was busted for murder. She's a hardened loner in the women's detention center but she protects Yukie, a virginal new prisoner, from the cellblock tough girls' humiliating hazing. Shortly after Yukie is released from jail she is blackmailed into prostitution by the Yakuza. Mayumi discovers the deal between an inmate and a jail guard in time to spark a prison riot when some officials hold an inspection day.
With an economical running time of 70 minutes, the film has hardly any padding beyond the straightforward plotline of girls fighting each other until they start fighting back against men. There is copious footage of naked women, most of it framed in violence during the first half of the movie. Gentler moments of intimacy between female cellmates are the focus in the latter section while all sexual situations involving men are presented as abusive circumstances.
Subtle touches throughout the movie show Ohara's skilled direction. Scenes with nudity are staged with careful lighting and creative angles to the greatest degree the genre will allow without alienating the core audience. That's to say, he puts just the right balance of art and sleaze into the naughty bits. In another instance, observe the way light penetrates the solitary confinement cell, intruding like a blinding searchlight. At an outdoor scene, Mayumi bends to wash in a river and her doubled-over form defines the vertical limit of the screen but the framing accommodates a character in the distant background. These are remarkable creative decisions that you wouldn't necessarily expect from a filmmaker churning out cheap exploitation but Ohara manages to dignify the work with his talent.
Impulse Pictures continues to release very handsome DVD transfers for its Nikkatsu erotic films collection. The picture quality of True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues is very good. There is a bit of softness at times but the image is clean and the colors are strong. A cooler palette dominates the scenes in the jail but the flashback outdoor sequence sports rich shades of green. The depth of the shadows looks right, contributing to the high contrast lighting that lends a gritty, realistic mood to the jail setting. A few instances of gray fogging obscure parts of the screen when pubic hair or naked male butts threaten to enter the picture. The two-channel mono soundtrack is fine with consistently strong dialogue.
There are no extra features on the DVD but the disc comes with a liner note insert. Jasper Sharp provides a two-page essay with more information on the history of Nikkatsu film studio and their 1970s output of exploitation and erotic films. This time, Sharp's writing has less to say about the feature film and instead focuses on the career of director Ohara.
This is sleazy cinema, to be sure, but Ohara gives it the same treatment as he would to any legitimate film. Its short running time means we're finished with the story before it becomes tedious and before we're too worn down by the tawdriness of the whole affair. To fans of Japanese exploitation and women-in-prison films, this is an easy recommendation.
Remanded into custody for further observation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Impulse Pictures
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