Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scorpion People

A portrait of a world where everyone is violent, no-one can be trusted, and everyone is motivated purely by revenge. People in this world can only be satisfied and fulfilled through the abuse and killing of their objects of hatred. This is Female Convict 701: Scorpion (女囚701号/さそり), a 1972 Japanese exploitation film significantly lighter on sex and comedy than most Japanese exploitation films of the time. It's stylish, brutal, and a visceral joy.

Meiko Kaji, of the similarly bare boned revenge film Lady Snowblood, stars as Sasori/Scorpion, introduced when the film opens in solitary confinement, slowly scraping the end off a spoon to make it into a crude knife. Her face is focused and with little emotion, and we already know she's peculiarly dangerous.

Scorpion only has two lines in the movie, she seems to exist as some kind of silent, malevolent core for the group of women who escape from the prison, their days on the run forming the bulk of the film. They first take shelter in a ghost town where they witness a house blow apart to reveal a strange old woman within, reminding me strongly of the witch from Throne of Blood.

In a dream-like sequence, the old woman seems to present herself as a spiritual manifestation of all the escapees, and she tells us the nature of the crimes committed by the women, each one a murder committed for revenge or resentment, except one woman whose crime apparently was prostitution, which, the old woman tells us, caused men to become jealous, as though her crime wasn't prostitution so much as perpetuating revenge cycles.

Except the old woman omits Scorpion's crime, augmenting the impression of Scorpion as a manifestation of the women. Her silence and mystery also make her the most sympathetic character--with Meiko Kaji's considerable beauty she seems to just represent blank, pure humanity. So she works very satisfyingly as the group's agent of revenge.

The film doesn't take place in anything that could be mistaken for reality and its extreme visual style compliments this. I really liked how the prison seemed to be located near a town mysteriously abandoned and buried.

And there's a great sequence where we see the women abruptly among bright orange fall leaves which seem to devour the old woman like Robert DeNiro in Brazil, and afterwards the orange leaves are gone again.

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