Onna keimusho / Women in Prison (1978, Japan)

Two themes run throughout this short movie: the betrayal of women by men, and sleaze. Sleaze, I think, wins.

The action starts with Ryôko Kagami (Erina Miyai) in a wedding dress, preparing to marry the man of her dreams, Keiichi Akao (Tôru Ibuki). She hands him all the money she has. He doesn’t appear hugely grateful, and tells her that he must immediately go to Osaka to save his business, rather than marry her as planned. You know that’s not good, and it gets worse when Jun Moriyama (Natsuko Yashiro) walks in on them making love, claiming to be Keiichi’s fiancée and asserting that she is carrying his child.

Ryôko is a little upset; upset enough to pick up some scissors and stab her no-good, two-timing, money-hungry, low-life boyfriend… but not with sufficient ill-will to kill him.

When we see her next, she is a model prisoner 15 months into her 19-month sentence, and the prison warden is warning her about the stress that can accompany approaching release and urging her not to muck up. At which point, you know that she will.

She returns to the cell she shares with five other women, who are engaging in a bit of bawdy behaviour. All of a sudden, it seems, that changes. A handsome new guard, Akira Kimoto (Yûsuke Kazato) is introduced to the prisoners, overseeing their work in the potato fields. An older prisoner, Uma (‘Granny’) Takahashi (Kyoko Togawa), feigns a medical incident; Kimoto carries her to await medical attention, and she gleefully grabs his crotch. This sparks off some unbridled activity in the cell that night; two of the women engage in passionate lovemaking, another smears butter on her genitals and grabs a stray cat to lick it off, and a potato is used as a sex-toy. “Everyone’s worked up,” Granny observes astutely.

Soon afterwards, again in the fields, Granny feigns another medical episode. Kimoto runs to her assistance, but is ensnared, gagged, undressed and gang raped by several prisoners. Granny lines up for her turn but is pushed out of the way. Ryôko walks away from the scene. There are oddly no consequences for any of the women involved; it presumably goes unreported.

Ryôko still carries a great sadness. “I’ll be out soon. But what difference does it make? The scars in my heart will never be healed,” she muses. And her melancholy is not helped by the arrival of a new prisoner – Jun, charged with embezzling ¥80m (for Keiichi’s benefit, one assumes), and placed in the same cell.

Jun is a touch unpleasant. She boasts that Keiichi will soon marry her, and delights in the child she has had to him. Keiichi had other girlfriends, she tells the other women in Ryôko’s presence, but “nothing serious.” And then, pointedly, “He would never make a baby with a worthless good-for-nothing.” The two rivals later come to blows. In the bathhouse, naturally, so as not to take the foot off the sleaze pedal.

But then everything turns dramatic. Jun’s father dies, and she is allowed to attend the funeral, under the escort of a female guard. She is desperate to see Keiichi and her son, Hiroshi. And although she has only three weeks to go before release, Ryôko determines to escape – to see Keiichi herself. She fakes an illness, is spirited out of the hospital ward in a laundry basket, and is assisted to scale the wall with a rope of knotted sheets and a grappling hook… while Granny diverts all the staff’s attention by noisily climbing a tower.

Ryôko gets picked up outside the prison by a stranger, who demands sex from her. She obliges, and through the lovemaking her mood changes from resentful to rapturous. As it would. Jun strangely misses the funeral (as does Keiichi) but her brother drugs the escorting guard’s tea, allowing Jun to escape and go in search of her fiancé and son.

Meanwhile, officer Kimoto overhears some prisoners talking about the escape. He tells no-one (why would you?), but gets in his own car and pursues Ryôko. He finds her. He tells her that he will take her back to prison to stop her getting into trouble. Of course they have sex. He leaves her with his car.

Jun arrives at Keiichi’s house. He tells her that Hiroshi is with his mother. They have sex, and then his new lover walks in on them, taunts her as a fat prisoner and joyfully announces that Keiishi has given Hiroshi away. Jun picks up a carving knife and stabs the new lover, and then Keiishi. Ryôko arrives to almost be part of Jun finishing Keiishi off; that, one expects, will finally bring her closure.

Ryôko then sneaks back into the prison (yes, you might reasonably ask how), and Jun is expected back from her routine funeral leave (drugged guard notwithstanding).

It is a somewhat depressing film, with neither the men nor the women coming out of it particularly well (although the used women attract a little more of our sympathies). And, one hopes, it bears very little resemblance to prison. Anywhere. Ever.




Posted on December 22nd, 2019 at 11:33 am. Updated on December 22nd, 2019 at 11:33 am.

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