Redemption in cinema is an obvious draw for audiences who love that sweet release that comes from bad people getting their just desserts. It is a marvellous storytelling device, and handled correctly can be an exceptionally rewarding lesson or message for audiences. Not Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, though, the first in a series of several gore-heavy redemption arcs. Nothing wrong with a bit of gore here or there, but sometimes a film simply doesn’t gel or stick with an audience. In the case of this piece from director Shunya Ito, such a blurring of characters, themes and violence throws out a very unique style, but not one I’m all that interested in witnessing again.
For me, the over-the-top notions and the directing style proved futile. It did not hook me, and the film was expecting a quick turnaround in how its character can go from hurt to harmful. Quick cuts, moody lighting and interesting costume designs aren’t as fruitful or engaging as they should be. Where they fall flat is in the story, for if a piece of writing is not interesting, then how can the story hope to survive? Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion doesn’t do all that much with its story, but then it doesn’t need to as it blurs sexually charged imagery with brutal prison guards with blood lust. It is the effective parallel between the two that should flower here, but it just didn’t cut it. Credit to Ito for blurring so many genres, but the blur is a sloppy one and doesn’t quite hammer home any strong message or innovative prose.
But does it need to? As a concept, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is undoubtedly going to, eventually, rely on its exploitation and eventual justification of such themes. Its character will be bashed and brutalised but will get her revenge by the end of those crisp ninety minutes. It is the journey we take, and how we get there, that matters most. It didn’t matter all that much to me. If we compare this tale of revenge to that of the other Meiko Kaji piece, Lady Snowblood, I certainly know which I’d prefer. But that is precisely what it is. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a fine film, it didn’t do much for me, but where its failings for me are narratively, its strengths lie in creativity. My preference for Lady Snowblood is not through character or style, but story and meaning.
It has its moments, but where Lady Snowblood succeeds, Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion fails. They are inherently different pieces, granted, but Kaiju is stronger in the former and not as redemptive in the latter. Ito debuts well enough with a story of exploitation, but no matter how many bells and whistles he adds to his plot or narrative, there is no way he can detract from the overwhelming tone it brings. Exploitation just isn’t my cup of tea, or when it is, it’s strapped to a strong story of samurai warriors, with bad people hunted down by Kaji nonetheless.