Think you’ve had a rough day? Then spare a thought for poor Matsu: at the beginning of Beast Stable, the third part of the Female Prisoner 701 series, we find her famished and worn-out hiding in the park, gnawing at an arm. The previous owner of the arm was an unlucky policeman, who was on the hunt of Sasori, Matsu’s nickname (meaning Scorpion). He and a couple of others had cornered her inside a metro carriage, but sure enough she managed to escape by running outside just as the doors were closing. And since Japanese doors are apparently so sharp they’ll cut off an arm, the policeman is now running around Tokyo with one arm missing. Come to think of it, spare a thought for him too.
Or maybe not, because the loss of his arm has made the man determined to track Sasori down, no matter what. Sure, we can understand that, but then again, it’s Matsu who is the protagonist and therefore our heroine. And it looks as if she’s hit rock bottom: whilst taking a bite at the arm (because running around in cuffs may draw some attention, but not as much as running in cuffs with an arm dangling from them), Matsu is watched by a young woman who earns a living by walking around on the streets. If you understand that metaphor (or is it a pars pro toto?). The young woman also needs the money to support her retarded brother, who doesn’t mind a bit of sex with his sister. Only ten minutes into the film, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable seems keen to prove it’s not a comedy.
But what is it then? Well, it’s the third part in the Female Prisoner series and the final collaboration between star Meiko Kaji and director Shunya Ito. (Meiko returned as a lead for the fourth film, before leaving the franchise as well.) All three movies are part of the pinku genre, but the three films have very much a different flow to them. The first one (Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion) looked most like a “women in prison” movie, with its fair share of abuse and nudity. Also present was excellent photography, resembling more than once a comic that had come to life. The second film (Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41) had a much more sober tone and while most of it was set in a prison too, it felt more like an “escape from prison” film. In the third film, Matsu is hiding from the police: she ends up in a seedy world of drugs and sex, meeting prostitutes and familiar people (who bear a grudge against her). Matsu even has to hide in the sewers, another metaphor of how awful things have become.
The exploitation isn’t the only thing that seems to have returned: this film seems to have a lot more emphasis on its look than the sequel. There are several scenes where the streets are full of Matsu’s poster, as if she was the most dangerous woman in the world. Well, maybe she is: here’s a woman that doesn’t mind being arrested under a false name, if it can help her come nearer to her revenge. She’s quite determined, our Scorpion.
The collaboration between Ito and Kaji seemed to be a great one and it’s nice to see a trilogy that doesn’t have a weak film. (My personal weakest of the three, the second one, still manages to score an admirable 7 out of 10.) And actress Meiko Kaji deserves a lot of praise for making the films a success too: Sasori isn’t an easy role to play as here’s a heroine that isn’t all good. Matsu makes mistakes and won’t blink an eye to murder someone if she deems it necessary, but still you maintain some sympathy for this troubled and ruthless woman. (In which case it may be helpful to watch the first film, so you can see how this lovely lady has become such a scorpion.)
The Sasori series does belong to the pinku (or pinky violence) subgenre as previously mentioned, but these films are good enough to stand above labelling. They’re good enough to watch, even if you don’t know the conventions of the genre. It’s a shame Ito didn’t sign up for the fourth film (budget and directorial freedom restrictions, allegedly), but even after Meiko Kaji’s departure the producers wanted to milk every penny out of their cash cow: the series returned for several other instalments and remakes. A pity maybe, as lesser films generally give the original films a worse reputation. Female Prisoner = Ito + Kaji… accept no substitutes!