Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972)
Nami Matsushima is just a girl in love, whose cop boyfriend sends her undercover with a gang so that he can arrest them when they rape her... and then take over their turf, because he is a bad cop. Feeling a bit miffed, Nami tries to stab her lover outside the police station and ends up in jail. There she abides, waiting for the day when she can escape and take her revenge.
FEMALE PRISONER 701: SCORPION is a genuine classic whose influence has reverberated through cinema since its release. Quentin Tarantino used the theme song in Kill Bill and Sion Sono dresses the protagonist of Love Exposure in the distinctive outfit Nami wears at the end of the film.
It is driven by an iconic performance from Meiko Kaji, dazzling cinematography and one of the best theme tunes in cinema. Shunya Ito takes advantage of the creative freedom offered by Toei's Pinku series of films and juggles the exploitation elements and avantgarde sensibilities with aplomb, sleazy and stylish in equal measures.
The prison guards are abusive and most of the inmates accept their position and fight amongst themselves for petty advantage. Nami endures unspeakable cruelty from both sides but remains aloof, refusing to be brought down to their level. Meiko Kaji doesn't speak much in the film, because with those eyes she simply doesn't need to. Driven by her need for vengeance she won't allow the prison to corrupt her, to make her complicit in her own degradation. Those who cross her inevitably end up regretting it sooner or later though.
In the end Nami's purity of purpose allows her to transcend and she is reborn as Sasori, an angel of hate. As the increasingly brutal attempts to break her cause the prison to collapse upon itself, she escapes and exacts her revenge on the men that put her there.
Sasori immediately became a cinematic icon, representing a form of female emancipation and empowerment, one which exists within a corrupt and exploitative system but which refuses to participate, which retains internal purity even when the exterior is sullied. This world may be a prison for the body, but your mind is your own.