Prisoner Maria: The Movie (1995, Japan)
One feature of the Australian quasi-biopic, Chopper (2000), is the (real-life) ‘Overcoat Gang’ – so named because its prisoner members wore big overcoats, even in summer, in which they would conceal shivs, iron bars and other weapons, or at least give the impression to their enemies that they were tooled up, even when unarmed. Overcoats kept coming to mind as I watched this very different type of movie.
There are several directorial challenges in Prisoner Maria: The Movie. Not the least is the arsenal of big, bulky weapons that Maria, the titular prisoner-cum-assassin, needs access to and which really call out for the roomiest of overcoats, but director Shûji Kataoka wants her to dress in slinky outfits where hiding anything other than a stiletto or a garotte is really tricky. For some reason he also wants to make a movie of unadulterated sleaze, and yet manages to deliver both a very coy love scene and a nastily gratuitous rape scene where the victim is abused… through her underwear.
It’s comforting, though, that Maria Kujo, the prisoner’s nom d’assassin (played by pop star Noriko Aota), can somehow still find a gun on her person when she needs one, despite the constraints of her clothing, and at the same time manage to avoid too much sleaze. She is serving a life sentence for the revenge killing of a gangster who killed her husband – and then injuring some police officers when arrested, which seems to have accounted for her harsh sentence. The State kindly offers her a deal: become an extrajudicial assassin, get your sentence reduced, and maybe even get to see your young son. Motivated by the last of those, she agrees.
Under the direction of the warden, she is given specific targets, covertly (but temporarily) released from prison, and provided with all that she needs (an apartment, a wardrobe full of outfits, a case full of weapons etc) – while all the time having the alibi of being in prison. It’s not a new idea.
The second assignment we see her undertake is to neutralise a young man, Akio, who has abducted, slashed and killed seven women in three months. He is the son of a prominent female politician, and it’s seen to be less scandalous to have him quietly eliminated than have the police work out who he is and arrest him. In trying to track him down, Maria turns to his psychiatrist, Dr Kito (Kôji Shimizu), who quickly discerns her real interest in his patient, and is in turn exposed as a madman and megalomaniac who believes he is God, who drugs and brainwashes young women, and who then sells them to the Taiwanese mafia for their organs or into prostitution. It’s clearly not just Akio who is the problem; there are lots of bad guys out there. As a result, Maria suddenly finds herself with not just one target, but many, and – having virtually outed herself – becomes a target of them in return.
Luckily, she keeps getting saved by the timely arrival of a handsome police officer, Igarasi (Tetsuo Kurata), dressed nearly always in a big white overcoat (more for its contribution to fashion than its utility), who happens to be working on the same targets. Maria is quite good at killing people, but not so good at telling Igarasi who she is, even when they’re in bed together. He doesn’t seem to care much.
Indeed, no-one seems to care much about anything, other than Maria for her son. Well, that’s not true; the politician cares strongly about her reputation (much more than her son’s life), the warden cares about his reputation and sees Maria as very expendable if she happens to get caught, and the Taiwanese and Dr Kito care a great deal about power, money and providing a good customer service experience to their black market clients.
Although Maria remains a prisoner for the entire film, she spends almost none of it in the Musashi Prison. Instead, she spends it dodging volleys of bullets fired at her at close range; managing to stay alive during hand-to-hand combat with Taiwanese mafia persons who seem to have an aversion to killing her despite wanting her dead; wearing a variety of expensive outfits; running in high heels and busting white slave trade rings. Normal action movie fare, really. And awful.
Posted on August 15th, 2020 at 1:55 pm. Updated on August 15th, 2020 at 1:55 pm.