Monday, November 13, 2017

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Female Prisoner 1316' (2004)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

Apparently cheapo women-in-prison exploitation movies are still a viable subgenre, at least in Japan, and 2004's Female Prisoner 1316 (also known as Death Row Girls) hits most of the expected beats for this sort of thing. It stars your basic rebellious badass criminal, Aki Hoshino as Misaki, who comes into the hardened prison to shake things up. Here the prison is actually some sort of mysterious training camp for secret agents (or something like that; the movie isn't really interested in clarifying things), where some of the most dangerous female criminals from throughout Japan are sent without their knowledge or consent. The training mostly seems to consist of running through the woods, with a single scene of the inmates learning hand-to-hand combat. If they're being prepared to be Japan's elite fighting force against terrorism (as the warden claims to Misaki at one point), then Japan is probably screwed.

Given the number 1316 (all inmates are referred to by numbers rather than names), Misaki teams up with another inmate to escape from the training camp, which is allegedly on a remote island, although most of the scenes look like they were shot in somebody's backyard. Their escape plan is pretty poorly thought-out, but it's just a loose framework for the requisite scenes of catfights and nudity that the genre requires. None of it is particularly exciting or titillating, and the performances are fairly subdued for a movie like this, without the campy excesses that would make the movie a little more entertaining and help transcend its budgetary limitations.

Even the nudity is fairly rote, mainly in gratuitous scenes of group showers (although there are a couple of scenes in which one of the prisoners just takes off her top for no apparent reason). There's very little action, and the climactic escape attempt ends without any closure, as Misaki simply swims away from the island, with no idea of where she is or where she's going or how to survive. The plotting isn't ambiguous as much as it's lazy, with the filmmakers avoiding any explanations of what's happening presumably so they don't have to expand the scope of the movie beyond the limited available locations (aside from one brief flashback to Misaki's crimes, the whole movie takes place at the compound). 

We get a semi-offensive portrayal of a little-person guard, a couple of ridiculous sex scenes, and the discovery of a cache of skeletons under the prison, but the salaciousness is all pretty mild. There seems to be a thriving industry for softcore "pink films" in Japan (check out this absurdly comprehensive list on Letterboxd), with which I am entirely unfamiliar, so I can't say whether Female Prisoner 1316 upholds the standards of the genre. But in comparison to American exploitation movies, it's pretty tame, with all the limitations of its low production values but almost none of the charm.