Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song
(Joshuu sasori: 701-go urami-bushi) (1973)
Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe

Artistic & Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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While on the run from the police, Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji), a convicted murderess who escaped from prison, is helped by Teruo (Masakazu Tamura), an employee at a pornographic theater who, years before, had, as a result of his activities as a student protestor, been tortured and disfigured by the same policeman, Kodama (Yumi Kanei), now leading the hunt for Nami. Teruo first hides Nami and then becomes romantically involved with her. Unfortunately, the lives of the pair get even more complicated than they already are after they invade Kodama's home and become embroiled in an altercation with the man's pregnant wife, during which struggle she falls off a balcony to her death. Nami and Teruo escape, but the latter is soon captured and, after having been again tortured by the police, who, eventually, get the man's mother to plead with him, admits to them Nami's whereabouts. Though she is subsequently apprehended, sentenced to death, and thrown into prison, Nami does not end her efforts to free herself and get revenge on those who have harmed her, including Teruo, with whom she had fallen in love but who had betrayed her.

Although Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song, Yasuharu Hasebe's sequel to Shunya Ito's three scorpion movies (1, 2, 3), is not as good as are the first and second of those, it is still reasonably exciting and enjoyable.

I will concede that the film lacks both the visceral savagery and the surreal imagery of the first two preceding it. Nonetheless, the director does tell a thrilling tale of adventure. He reveals how Nami braves one dangerous situation after another, is brutally beaten, faces death, and yet never stops struggling. He does, consequently, evoke a poignant sense of the woman's bravery, even of her heroism. That said, this heroism is given a certain nastiness here, which makes her character more intriguing than she would have been otherwise. Nami proves herself willing to cause pain not just to those who threaten her, but also to their family members (such as the woman she, in effect, causes to fall to her death) and even to those she finds it convenient to manipulate (such as a fellow prisoner who is awaiting her death calmly, having found peace, but in whom Nami reawakens fear by informing the woman that she is soon to die). Nami is not, however, the only character in the film who has violent inclinations. Most notably, the viewer is shown how Kodama, having captured Teruo, beats and tortures that man and how the policeman tortured, scalded, and maimed Teruo in the past. Even if it is never truly intense, the movie is, thanks to such elements, invariably exhilarating.

As I mentioned above, the film is not alive with the strange images, wild colors, and dreamlike feel of those directed by Ito. In fact, for most of its duration, Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song is actually fairly pedestrian visually. Sadly, the movie's final moments, which do include a couple of scenes filled with otherworldly or garish images, are, at once, derivative of sequences from the earlier films and rather cheaply done. They are not, as a result, as effective as they could have been. In one such scene, while standing below a burning orange sky and being illumined with light like molten gold, Nami faces the detective who has been hunting her, and who has constructed a gallows himself so that he can personally hang her, and, in another, she confronts Teruo while dressed in a long black coat and a wide brimmed black hat and standing in a circle of light in the darkened theater where the man works. These image are, for the most part, appealing, but they are nothing new and their impact is weakened by some substandard details (like a fake crow dangling upside down in the hanging scene).

Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song is a good, exciting movie. Taken on its own, it is a success and is certainly well worth seeing. It is just not inspired in the way the first two films in the series are.

Review by Keith Allen

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