The second instalment of the popular FEMALE PRISONER series.

Matsu (Meiko Kaji, LADY SNOWBLOOD) lies chained to the floor of a dirty cellar. She's spent a year there in solitary confinement as punishment for an attempted prison break.

Her slumber is interrupted by the arrival of chief warden Mr Goda (Fumio Watanabe, SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST) and his two henchmen. After telling Matsu how much he despises her (understandable, she gouged his eye out in the preceding FEMALE PRISONER NO 701: SCORPION), Goda advises her that he plans to keep her locked underground forever. However, he allows her outside on this day as an important official is visiting the prison and has requested that all inmates be present for inspection in the exercise yard.

No sooner has Matsu - known as Scorpion to her admirers - been dragged to the yard, than she lunges murderously at Goda, the official pisses himself and the inmates stage a mini-riot.

The prisoners are given a day's hard labour as atonement for their unruliness, while Goda arranges for Matsu to be gang-raped in front of them in a bid to rid her of her hard-as-nails reputation.

For a while, Goda's plan works. The other girls beat the shit out of Matsu in the back of a prison truck while being transported back to jail, chastising her for failing to fight back while four guards had their wicked way with her. Believing Matsu to be dead, the inmates demand the truck is stopped. But Matsu is very much alive, and still strong enough to throttle the driver to death - instigating a prison break that finds Matsu on the run with six other women, led by her rival - the child-killing Oba (Kayoko Shiraishi, DARK TALES OF JAPAN).

Their plight for freedom takes the women across vast landscapes and through tiny villages, while Goda's henchmen are never far behind with their traps and roadblocks at the ready.

JAILHOUSE 41 is a frenzied movie. It roars along at a frantic pace, filled with bizarre characters, quirky songs and breathless chase scenes. In-between you'll find gratuitous lesbianism, graphic violence, a mystical old lady given to singing about the female fugitives, a tasteless scene in which a woman's child is roughed up in front of her to encourage her to rat on her friends, dubious rape-related humour and a siege-on-a-bus scene that is so insane that it elevates the movie into a state of pure delirium.

Shunya Ito's direction makes all the above, as unlikely as it may sound, utterly beautiful. What could have been mindless (even offensive) schlock is transformed into visually stunning arthouse cinema, thanks to some sublime photography, a few truly mesmerising psychedelic dream sequences and well-chosen, bewitching landscape backgrounds.

Costume design and rich colour schemes are big in this film too, working alongside Ito's imaginative editing and at times downright surreal set-pieces to turn even the trashiest scenes into ones of awe-inspiring marvel. Albeit, ones of violent and politically incorrect awe-inspiring marvel ...

On a thematic note, the film has more to say than its pulpy plot suggests. There's a strong feminist streak running throughout - such as when the old lady sings to us about the fugitives' backgrounds: all were imprisoned for crimes they committed after being severely provoked into them by men.

Performances are loud and over-the-top, in keeping with the film's comic book routes, save for Kaji who cuts a figure of sorrowful intensity from beginning to end without having to utter a word.

Visually sumptuous, thrillingly exciting, thoroughly engaging and at times surprisingly violent - JAILHOUSE 41 oozes cool (unlike Tarantino's desperate failed attempts to recapture it's abundant raw style). A bonafide cult classic.

Eureka's disc offers the film uncut, in it's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It's anamorphically enhanced and, despite minor grain and occasional onscreen specks, looks superb. Sharp, bright and boasting well-balanced colours, this is a very nice job for a visually gorgeous movie.

The Japanese mono audio track is equally reliable. However, the screener disc came with forced English subtitles that unfortunately had their share of spelling errors. Hopefully this is being sorted out for the actual DVD release - the press release does mention removable English subtitles, so here's hoping.

Static menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

The only extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer, in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 with Japanese audio but no subtitles. Still, it's a fun 3 minutes that does a good job of putting across how exhilarating the movie really is.

Liner notes by Matt Palmer were unfortunately not available for review.

All in all, Eureka offer a fairly basic but highly competent disc for a great cult flick. With the R1 Image release now long-since deleted and selling for silly money online ($50+ on Amazon Marketplace!), this release is sure to be welcomed by many. And rightly so. The film alone, uncut and in anamorphic widescreen, is well worth the asking price.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Eureka!
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review