Matsu (Meiko Kaji) spends a year in solitary confinement, tortured and mocked by the prison guards, all overseen by the wicked warden of the first movie, a man determined to break her will at all costs. When he fails at this, he devises a new scheme involving turning the female prisoners against Matsu. They riot, the uprising failing, and a group of six girls plus Matsu get sent out to work, breaking rocks. The women, angry at Matsu for causing them so much trouble, beat her to death. The guards come to look and it turns out Matsu was faking it. She kills the guards and the girls are free and on the run. They stick together, traversing the countryside, running into a crazy old lady who may or may not be a witch, who later dies, fading away and turning into a pile of leaves. After this they come upon a busload of (mostly) male tourists, three of which rape one of the girls. The escapees take charge of the bus and hold the men hostage, treating them horribly. In the end, the police catch up with them, and there is a siege and stand-off. Will Matsu be recaptured, or will she escape yet again and gain her revenge against the evil warden that has tortured her so relentlessly?
A bit of a departure from the style of the first film, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 takes on more of the form of a pursuit film, with most of the action taking place on the run, as we follow the seven ladies fleeing for their freedom. It opens up the narrative a bit, and we learn where these women come from, what they’ve done to get thrown into jail, and if any of them are in the slightest way redeemable. Meanwhile, Matsu always lurks in the background, a phantom of revenge, waiting for her moment. Gone are the demonic faces and colored gels, replaced with some interesting jump cuts and a very surreal run through a forest with the old lady witch. Meiko Kaji is outstanding as always. I think she only has two lines of dialogue in the whole film, and those come near the end. She conveys every emotion through her body language and her facial expressions. One minute, you can see when she goes dead inside, numb to the world, in order to survive whatever new torture the warden has thrown on her. The next minute she stares, eyes wide, a haunting ghost. And then the truly chilling moments, when that stare turns hateful, and you just know she’s about to kill the shit out of someone. Truly tremendous.
Somehow, director Shun’Ya Ito takes a very controversial subject and makes it work, through both intelligent scripting and character development, combining this with his more experimental take on cinema. The closest thing I can compare these movies to, as far as their uneasy morality and frankness, would be A Clockwork Orange. Both sort of tread the same ground, but with obvious cultural and gender differences. Not as good as the original, this sequel is still stunning in its own right. A terrific film, full of action, sex, violence, and ruminations on society, prison, and what redemption means, Jailhouse 41 stands on its own as a worthy successor to the first film. Now streaming on Shudder.