Scorpion is back! Toei Studios’ third instalment opens with Nami (Meiko Kaji) on the run and out for blood. Handcuffed to a maniac cop (Mikio Narita), she hacks off his arm and hotfoots it waving the bloody, severed limb behind her. Considering Toei’s cinema verite production shoots, those astonished passers-by are probably real. Nami finds shelter with Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe), a hooker with a heart of gold and her own woes. Yuki’s mentally handicapped brother sought sexual solace with sis and now she’s pregnant. Both women fall into the clutches of a malevolent yakuza boss whose moll Katsu (Raisen Lee), a wicked witch with a nasty line in genital torture, imprisons Nami in her raven infested, torture dungeon. Worse still, a certain one-armed detective is closing in. Will Nami escape and kick ass, old school? You better believe it, Toei fans.
What appears on the surface to be reprehensible (gore, torture, sexual perversion) is redeemed by two things. First, Shunya Ito’s fairytale storytelling (Nami the avenging angel righting wrongs), wild angles, comic book colours and sumptuous compositions elevate sexploitation into high art. Second, the understated solidarity between Nami and Yuki remains genuinely affecting. Ito loves these downtrodden women and wants us to love them too. That is why, amidst the sleazy touches and arterial sprays, the movie’s magical highlight remains Yuki summoning Nami out of the sewers. Her lit matches rain like fireflies, after which they simply gaze at one another in silent empathy. Ito photographs his lead actresses like heroines from a shojo anime: black clad Kaji hardly utters a word, relying on her extraordinarily expressive eyes. Yayoi Watanabe transforms from Plain Jane to stunning, via scarlet lipstick, blue eye-shadow and a green, satin cape. They make a striking duo and it’s a shame Watanabe never stuck with the series as a supporting character.
Beast Stable doesn’t top the candy-coloured phantasmagoria of Jailhouse 41 (1972). The plot splinters in all directions (a blackmailing yakuza with a jealous girlfriend remains a strand too far), but still works a treat. Ito goes for gothic style and Grand Guignol horror: a hungry Nami gnawing at the severed arm, a yakuza slimeball’s death by raven, a spectral Scorpion skulking shadowy tunnels or rising from a fiery blaze. Plus the most disturbing abortion sequence in screen history. This last sequence appears to have been cut slightly for this region 2 DVD release, but having last seen this film as a teenager one could be mistaken.
Beast Stable was Ito’s final Scorpion movie before settling into a more ‘respectable’ filmmaking career. He never topped this series, although murder mystery Labyrinth of Flowers (1988) is highly regarded. Meiko Kaji threatened to jump ship after Beast Stable too, but Toei wooed her back for part four, Grudge Song (1973), directed by her old mentor Yasuharu Hasebe.