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April 03, 2012

True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell

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Jitsuroku onna kanbetsusho: sei-jigoku
Koyu Ohara - 1975
Impulse Pictures Region 1 DVD

How about if I just refer to this film as Sex Hell? It wasn't that long ago when the "Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion" series came and went. What effort director Koyu Ohara and writing partner Akira Momoi put into the screenplay seems to have been in remembering scenes from that cult series from the early Seventies. For those unfamiliar with the earlier films, they star Meiko Kaji in the title role, a woman taking the rap for some guy, standing her ground with the guards and fellow prisoners, and escaping from the joint long enough to get revenge before getting locked up again. Sex Hell bears more than a passing resemblance to Meiko Kaji's series, and Hitomi Kozue was probably cast due to her vague resemblance to Kaji.

One very obvious lift is a scene of the female prisoners forced to march naked for an inspection. I don't recall which of the Kaji films had a similar scene, with a staircase constructed so that a male guard could look up the legs of the prisoner. Sex Hell also begins with an Enka, a Japanese pop ballad that is usually sung by the star, bemoaning one's fate in life. Nikkatsu Studios "youth films" from the Fifties often began that way, with several of the young movie star establishing even longer careers as singers. Even though Sex Hell begin with just enough association with some beloved cult films, the film is neither as erotic nor as stylish as the films cribbed by Ohara. Hitomi Kozue doesn't even get the chance to wear a big, floppy hat like Kaji, either.

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Based on the evidence in this film, Koyu Ohara wasn't much interested in anything resembling a visual style. There is the need to get down and dirty, with several scenes of urination, with some of the women getting the results of trickle down liquid assets. Ohara also employs a few close ups of hands, both male and female, exploring orifices, both male and female. The gals are in stir because of their involvement with guys who should know better than to cheat on them, or perform a surgery that indicates deliberate malpractice. As is required in Women in Prison movies, some of the girls hook up, leading to jealousy and fights concerning who's wearing who's panties. There is also a scene of "chicken plucking" with pubic hairs pulled out one by one.

Just when I was about to give up, Sex Hell ends with a pretty good scene of Kozue and a pal escaping from prison and reuniting with the men of their lives. Finding some cans of gasoline in a room for no apparent reason, the two set the prison on fire, distracting everyone from their bid for freedom. The scene takes place in a snowy night, and the two women are running around the prison grounds barefoot. Anybody can get naked and have sex with whomever is convenient. It takes a truly fearless person to run outside the house without the benefit of shoes.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 3, 2012 08:59 AM