A cry echoes across Tokyo: “Sasori!” (Scorpion!) On she strides, in her trademark slouch hat and black trenchcoat, Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji), ex-con on the run, the one-woman army they call Scorpion. Actress Meiko Kaji croons the series’ famous theme: “A Woman’s Grudge Song”, later recycled in Kill Bill (2003), over the moody opening credits. By the time this fourth film rolled round, Kaji was growing tired of the repetitive storylines. Hoping to keep their star happy, Toei Films signed a new director: Yasuharu Hasebe, Kaji’s old mentor from Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970).
Fleeing the cops as per usual, Nami hides out at a strip club, allowing Hasebe an excuse to intercut the exciting chase sequence with some topless girl-on-girl action, scored by a steamy jazz rendition of “Danny Boy” (?!) She finds an ally in the club’s proprietor, Teruo Kudo (Masakazu Tamura), a former student radical who bears a grudge against the police for torturing him. However, their planned revenge against their mutual nemesis, the ruthless Detective Kodama (Yami Kanei) goes awry when they hold his pregnant wife hostage and she dies an accidental death. Kudo is caught and tortured in front of his elderly mother who convinces him to turn Nami in. Soon the recaptured Scorpion finds herself at the mercy of the vengeful Kodama…
Hasebe can pull off a grand guignol set-piece as well as anyone and his camerawork is frenetically stylish, but while Grudge Song has moments of undeniable visceral power, the old sparkle is not quite there. For one thing, Nami goes absent for lengthy stretches (what’s a Scorpion movie without Scorpion?) while Hasebe dwells on the brutal police tactics used to apprehend her, including rape and torture. Kodama’s amoral attack dogs crack down on trade unions, students and various left-leaning folk in scenes deliberately drawing parallels with real life events from Japan’s political upheaval during the early Sixties. This strain of social commentary had been the Scorpion movies stock-in-trade from the get-go, although the unflinching sadism anticipates Hasebe’s later, less reputable rape thrillers like Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976).
The midsection sags somewhat once Nami/Sasori/Scorpion is detained inside a militaristic women’s prison. Here, she somewhat uncharacteristically and cruelly taunts a religious convict who then freaks out upon facing the hangman’s noose, then goes out of her way to antagonise the one kind-hearted, liberal-minded female prison guard to show inmates any kindness. Seemingly because this cheery do-gooder somehow irks her. This same prison guard is then gang-raped by detectives, so Kodama can blackmail her into helping Nami escape prison in his car, giving him the chance for a private execution. Hasebe brings some high gothic style to the dizzying denouement, although Nami’s final retribution against a character who has arguably suffered enough, seems unjust. As usual Meiko Kaji utters nary a word throughout, yet conveys volumes through sheer feral presence alone. This was her last Scorpion movie before she left Toei for Toho studios and another cult classic: Lady Snowblood (1973). Three years later, Toei took a stab at reviving the series with New Female Convict Scorpion (1976) starring Yumi Takigawa.