"Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion" and the trope of 'revenge'

While most women-in-prison flicks bore me, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1973) directed by Shunya Ito is a groove sensation. The plot is simple, Nami Matsushima AKA Matsu the Scorpion (Meiko Kaji) is betrayed by her bent cop boyfriend Sugimi (Isao Natsuyagi), who sets her up to be raped by his gangster cohorts. After  Matsu is jailed for attempting to murder Sugimi, her only aim in life  is to escape in order to fully avenge herself. The story is told largely through visuals and partially in flashback, with lashings of torture, nudity, beatings and lesbianism.  A shower room cat-fight and other staples of this genre spin off into surreal flights of fancy, and much of the action is colour-coded – red for hatred, green for revenge. This makes Female Prisoner reminiscent of Italian shockers of the 1970s; and despite the colour-coding, which immediately brings to mind Dario Argento, it is much closer to the work of Lucio Fulci, with his dissolution of  linear time and taste for gory eye-gouging sequences.
Female Prisoner # 701: Scorpion boasts the production values of a Japanese studio film, but like the work of Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded To Kill etc.) it manages to transcend the formulaic limitations of production-line cinema. Nonetheless, the essential characteristics of Matsu the Scorpion will be familiar to anyone who has seen more than one ‘revenge’ film. There is no need for Matsu to exist as a fully formed ‘character’ because her motivation and superhuman strength are a product of her burning  desire for revenge. She can endure any physical pain because she is consumed by a hatred that enables her to triumph over all adversities and adversaries.
Two notable Japanese films that took up the troupe of ‘revenge’ as it was recast in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and developed it outside the women-in-prison genre are The Streetfighter (1974) starring Sonny Chiba, and Sex & Fury (1973) with Reiko Ike. Missing the revenge element, but sharing the psychedelic feel of Female Prisoner is Hanzo The Razor: Sword of Justice (1972) directed by Kenji Misumi. In Hanzo, lead actor Shintarô Katsu repeatedly whacks his prick with a big stick in order to toughen it, then masochistically pounds his throbbing member into a bag of rice. He does this to maintain his sexual prowess, which he deploys when interrogating female crime suspects, all of whom fall under the spell of his manly charms once he’s raped them. Straight down-the-line misogyny is only one of the factors that reveals Hanzo to be a far weaker film than Female Prisoner. While it is possible to ‘read’ all these movies as sexist, the way Meiko Kaji stares back at her ‘cinema’ audience in Female Prisoner problematises any pre-existing  ideas we might have about voyeurism, and brings to my mind the work of  Stephen Dwoskins. Dwoskins realises his ritualistic disemboweling of what is now falsely configured as ‘male gaze’ to best effect in Dyn Amo (1972). And like Ito’s work, Dwoskins’ films are very trippy.
Returning to the theme of revenge, it is hardly surprising it should provide such fertile material for film-makers, since many people in our (post)-modern world feel belittled and their resentment has also spawned a plethora of websites and publications devoted to this subject. Given that ‘revenge tactics’ such as ordering multiple pizza deliveries to a chosen victim are now so well-known they are unlikely to work (if they ever did), over the past few decades there has been an explosion of  how-to-do tips on this ‘subject’. I’d guess that most of those who read this largely redundant literature do so to make themselves feel less powerless, and that they are unlikely to utilise the ‘advice’ they’ve sought out. The following is a typical revenge scheme from 21st Century Revenge by Victor Santoro (Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend 1999):
“If you know your target intends to fly by commercial carrier, and you have access to his carry-on luggage for a minute, you have another possibility. Even a briefcase will be enough for your purposes. If one of your preparations has been to pick up a handgun that cannot be traced to you, say bought at a garage sale, slip the gun into his carry-on bag when you have a moment alone with it. You might have to make your own luck here by being a nice guy and offering to help him carry his bags down to the car or taxi.”
Anyone who thinks scams like this are worth trying out is either a cop or is looking at the world through a pair of X-Ray Spex, and a book of harassment tactics is not going to provide them with the life they so desperately need. The sense of resentment capitalism generates cannot be combated on a personal level, it requires collective action. The Female Prisoner series might give us a sense of this – especially when seen as originally intended in a cinema setting – through a collective identification with Matsu the Scorpion. On the other hand, books and websites dedicated to the style of revenge scheme propounded by the likes of Victor Santoro, are a very literal waste of time.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Karen Karnak on 2009-06-14 17:37:20 +0000

Towards a Industrial Union of Psychic Workers 007/700
Fellow Workers,
The Second Temporary Art Strike Action Committee – Alytus Chapter (STASAC-Alytus) has called for an Art Strike action against Vilnius becoming European Cultural Capital for 2009, calling for Sympathy Strikes all over the world to support the Strike activities in Lithuania during the whole year 2009.
Just as the art strike Campaign launched in 1986 by Stewart Home which called upon all artists to cease their artistic work between 1990 and 1993 was, unlike the art strikes proposed by Gustav Metzger and the Art Worker Coalition in the 1960s, not merely a boycott of art institutions through artists, but a provocation of artists addressing their understanding of art and their identity as artists. In these previous strikes there has been a critical position against Art as a specifically bourgeois construction, and an adoption of the position of Cultural workers.
As the art strike is not centred on a job or region or trade – it is not a matter for a Job union or a Trade Union, like Gerasimov’s Kuznitsa but an Industrial Union – that of culture as an industry. However we must also attack the Bogdanovist position where proletarian culture or proletkult is the third part of a trinity of revolutionary socialism, Whereas the unions would attend to the proletariat’s economic interests and the Communist Party, their political interests, the Proletkult would look after their cultural and spiritual life – we should look to the integration of all of these activities into our daily life and under the direct control of the workers at large.
This is one of the aims of the proposed Data Miners Strike called for by the Situationist Worker in The End of the Age of Divinity – a process to lead up to a General Strike in 2012. But instead of organising as Data Miners, a position based on the idea of miners as proletarian vanguard, it is the real organisational structure of the IWW through which the proletariat can communicate – which includes the organisation of miners as one of the first Industrial Unions (200 – after Agricultural workers 100).
The IWW’S numerical system of organising industrial unions is more than a means of communication – it is a memory system and an ordering of semantic space – an ontology and toplogy. It is the situation of proletarianisation opposed to bourgeois systems such as the Semantic Web and the Dewey Decimal System.
The IWW structure currently goes from 100-600 and is formed with the organisation of workers around the world. Its future development is open and it could become a hexadecimal system. However, while the data miners would be organised in Communications and Computer Workers Industrial Union 560 there is currently no IU for artists or indeed those cultural workers who are refusing this role – other than Recreational Workers Industrial Union 630.
I am therefore proposing that instead of concentrating on the different material or media produced – e look at the psychic construction and production that we are involved in. The IWW structure currently goes from 100 to 600 and we therefore can theorise 000 and 700 as its limits. In proposing 700/007 we are also putting Proletarian organisation as the ultimate critique of John Dee’s Enochian system of Hermetic Magick.
In organising as psychic workers we can identify the industries in which psychic workers currently are mainly employed as those of Entertainment and the Military. Psychic warfare has always been an integral and primary part of the military industry and this is why cultural production and propaganda are areas where we must create workers power and control. This points to another current omission in the organisation of the IWW – that of military workers – in the army, navy or airforce – or indeed in the production and distribution of arms. The question of proletarian armed struggle which is of course inevitable and vital rest upon this organisation.
I hope that the move towards the organising of psychic workers is a step towards realising this.
Karen Karnak
Industrial Workers of the World: http://iww.org
About Alytus Art Strike Activity: http://www.alytusbiennial.com/index.php/about
The Art Strike Papers: http://stewarthomesociety.org/artstrik.htm
Situationist Worker – The End of the Age of Divinity: http://antisystemic.org/SW/TheEndOfTheAgeOfDivinity-Enkutatach409.pdf

Comment by Joan Webster on 2009-06-14 20:57:36 +0000

oh so you are a feminist! mind you the rarer action is in virtue rather than vengence

Comment by Michael K on 2009-06-14 20:59:38 +0000

I love these movies but still find the Italian stuff hotter, coz at least they are willing to show pubes. No pubes in thes Japanese exploitation classics of the 70s!

Comment by Dave “Oz” Zack on 2009-06-14 22:11:34 +0000

I hope you are well. Am in a great sorrow writing you this note, Just wanted inform you about something very important, I could barely think or type straight at this point, I hope you come to my aid. something very terrible is happening to me now, I need a favor from you urgently, I had a trip here in Nigeria for a Seminar. Unfortunately for me all my money got stolen on my way to the hotel where i lodged along with my Cell phone, bag where my passport was and since then i have been without any money, I am even owing the hotel here. So i have limited access to emails for now, I urgently need your financial assistance. The total sum of money that i would need would be $2,500 to sort-out my hotel bills so i can make arrangements and return back, I am full of panic now, the police only asked me to write a statement about the incident and directedme to the embassy, I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the matter effectively, I will return the money back to you as soon as i get home, I am so confused right now. I wasn’t injured because I complied immediately. I will be waiting to hear from you so I can send you the western union information to use in sending the money. Peace & Joy. Thank you, Dave “Oz” Zack.

Comment by Tony Lesce on 2009-06-14 22:22:14 +0000

You lying piece of crap!

Comment by Dave “Oz” Zack on 2009-06-14 22:31:07 +0000

Thank you so much for your concern towards my situation,You can imagine what the robbery scene was like!!! I still await to hear from the embassy for a temporary paper in replacement of my passport so im not sure if i can get the money which you will be sending myself,so i spoke with the Hotel manager when he came to give one of the victims in the hotel money he received and he agreed to help me get the money out as soon as the money is sent on his name.So all i want you to do is send me the money direct to the Hotel manager here and i will get it through him.This is his name and address below which you will need to transfer me the money.
Name-Martin Philips
Address-Plot 1700 Violet Yough Close
Lagos 6170 Nigeria
Once again ,i am very grateful for your concern,please immediately you
have the money sent to me,kindly help me scan a copy of the receipt
given to you,or you help me write out the necessary details on the
receipt,so i can give it to the manager to receive for me.
please i will be waiting to hear from you soon.

Comment by Nina Power on 2009-06-14 23:08:55 +0000

Female Prisoner # 701: Scorpion is indeed a groove sensation.

Comment by Sean Diamond on 2009-06-15 07:40:11 +0000

Sounds better than “Chained Heat” anyway ….

Comment by Simon Evans on 2009-06-15 11:00:49 +0000

Yeah, bring back ‘Bad Girls’ with more uncensored girl-on-girl action, please.

Comment by David Gionfriddo on 2009-06-15 11:18:42 +0000

House of Whipcord…Toot toot!

Comment by Raymond Anderson on 2009-06-15 12:06:29 +0000

how big does a collective have to be?

Comment by I.K. on 2009-06-15 12:07:44 +0000

The Ventriloquists by Harold Pinter
I send my voice into your mouth
You return the compliment
I am the Count of Cannizzaro
You are Her Royal Highness the Princess Augusta
I am the thaumaturgic chain
You hold the opera glass and cards
You become extemporaneous song
I am your tutor
You are my invisible seed
I am Timour the Tartar
You are my curious trick
I your enchanted caddy
I am your confounding doll
You my confounded dummy.

Comment by Joan Webster on 2009-06-15 12:49:31 +0000

proving that words can be infinately more sexy than watching a load of lesbos getting off on celluloid.
The Visitation by Harold Pinter
Come, come come
Cum, cum, cum
To me

Comment by Simon Davies on 2009-06-15 13:06:23 +0000

To be effective a collective would need to reach critical mass (critical mass is a sociodynamic term to describe the existence of sufficient momentum in a social system such that the momentum becomes self-sustaining and fuels further growth). Right, I’m off down the futurists lock-out gastropub.

Comment by Harold Pinter on 2009-06-15 13:19:50 +0000

The Regurgitation by Harold Pinter
Come, come, come

Comment by Simon Evans on 2009-06-15 13:25:37 +0000

Critical mass is the mass a star must reach before it starts to go thermonucleur or collapse.

Comment by Raymond Anderson on 2009-06-15 13:53:16 +0000

I’ll have a pint of Genius.

Comment by Joan Webster on 2009-06-15 13:53:24 +0000

oh harold, you’re always there when i need you

Comment by Simon Evans on 2009-06-15 14:11:56 +0000

Sorry, I meant Supernovae and/or collapse.

Comment by Joan Webster on 2009-06-15 14:21:28 +0000

it’s more critical to have a supernovae haircut

Comment by Harold Pinter on 2009-06-15 14:36:33 +0000

oh Joan baby
come come cum
to me

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-06-15 14:45:08 +0000

Yeah, Linda Blair made a lot of bad movies. Pete Walker… hmmm, mixed feelings…. “Whipcord” is alright but I probably prefer “Frightmare”….

Comment by Joan Webster on 2009-06-15 14:53:25 +0000

only if you’re fully shaved

Comment by Raymond Anderson on 2009-06-15 15:01:43 +0000

I’d like to have been at some of the scriptwriting sessions for Prisoner Cell Block H.

Comment by Andy Hart on 2009-06-15 17:53:41 +0000

Jack Hill’s ‘Big Bird Cage’ and ‘Big Doll House’ films and ‘Caged Heat’ do it for me (whatever it may be).

Comment by Simon Evans on 2009-06-15 18:37:29 +0000

Anyone remember ‘Within these Walls’? .. if so, please share…

Comment by Raymond Anderson on 2009-06-15 18:56:01 +0000

Googie Withers.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-06-15 19:26:14 +0000

One of the most insane women-in-prison films is “Reform School Girls” (1986) directed by Tom DeSimone. The big star name Wendy O. Williams is far too old to be in reform school and looks completely ridiculous alongside the other girls – although these films are always ridiculous. And although I love stuff like “Female Vampire” and “Succubus”, Jess Franco’s WIP movies do little for me, anyone for “99 Women” or “Wanda The Wicked Warden”? I’ll leave you to it as I’d rather watch “The Awful Dr Orloff” again. I don’t go for the Ilsa movies either, which Wanda was later re-titled to match in order to cash in on them….

Comment by A. Political on 2009-06-15 19:52:11 +0000

The formulation of the Art Strike as a biennial is concerning as it appropriates and perpetuates the capitalist forum whereby artists are bought and ‘critically’ appraised. As Will Turner has commented ‘…to mirror an ideological construct in order to subvert leads to an inevitable implosion of communist values’. How far, then, are beliefs operative as causes of actions?

Comment by Karen Karnak on 2009-06-15 20:56:13 +0000

We expect hostility, intimidation and greater surveillance after our action. Covering up makes it easier to communicate. And we know that our message is much bigger than the messenger herself.

Comment by A. Political on 2009-06-15 22:15:31 +0000

Karen, I feel an innate antipathy to the notion of covering up but I am not certain why. Perhaps this comes out of the way I see it as a display premised on dishonesty but I agree that a loss of identity allows the slippage into the mass and this facilitates communication. The mask allows one to become anyone. I hope you agitate successfully.

Comment by O on 2009-06-16 16:20:56 +0000

far as retribution fare goes Otis is way out there http://www.azmovies.net/otis.html

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