This third installment of the Female Prisoner series opens with Matsu (Meiko Kaji) on the lam, riding in a subway car, keeping a low profile. She is public enemy number one and the cops want her, bad. Two detectives spy her and grab her as the train pulls into a station. Matsu slices the throat of one but is handcuffed to the other as she tries to run off. The detective gets his arm caught in the closing doors, stuck inside the subway car. Matsu glares at him with her demon eyes before hacking his arm off and going on the run, his dead arm dangling from the cuff hanging off her wrist. What a way to start a movie! Matsu eventually finds help and shelter from a prostitute who is also sheltering her mentally damaged brother. The prostitute carries on an incestuous relationship with her brother, feeling sorry for his feeble mind, and eventually gets pregnant. All the while, she has a strange, distant friendship with Matsu, who has gone to work as a seamstress. In the background, the cop who lost his arm is on the prowl for Matsu, and the local gangsters run afoul of the prostitute and eventually Matsu. Once again, Matsu must endure intense suffering and escape from being imprisoned, and once again, this leads to another round of terrifying vengeance.
For a concept that feels pretty limited, director Shun’ya Ito has managed to stretch it into three very good films (there is a fourth that he did not direct), each one taking on its own tone and feel. The first one is very much about prison and escape, torture and the treatment of women as subservient in general. The second film is an escape movie, the women on the run, threatened by a powerful patriarchy that drove some of them insane and seeks to snuff out their lives for daring to be defiant. This third film is a bit of a cross between the first two. There is a little prison action towards the end, but most of the movie deals with Matsu making her way in a “civilized” world, where women have to sell their bodies to make ends meet, whether that means prostitutions or nearly slave-like working conditions. They are seen as nothing more than playthings for men to take advantage of, whether that man is a brain-damaged brother or a random stranger neighbor, looking to get some action. This includes the cops, who are nothing but predatory, and the gangsters that run the underworld. This third film takes on a more gothic overtone, with the women moving around like ghosts in a vibrant, neon-soaked, living world populated by vicious men. There are several stark shots that magnify this bleakness, and Matsu, despite her defiance, is almost swallowed whole by the despair surrounding her. As ever, though, she fights back, and like an Angel of Death, she becomes almost supernatural in obtaining her revenge.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable, marks the end of the run for original director Ito. He leaves the series with a fine finale, if they so chose to leave it there (they do not). Within the confines of this very rigid story structure, he once again manages to tell a tale that is wholly original and compelling. The women of this hyper-realistic world must fight back in order to gain some sort of freedom from the oppressive presence of the bestial men who run their lives. Matsu is almost superhuman in her resistance and empowerment, and if people can’t see the ringing endorsement of feminism in these films, I don’t really know what to say to them. Beast Stable is another great film in this terrific series, worthy of viewing and cherishing. It is currently streaming on Shudder.