“Prisoner Cell-Block Meh”
Adding a somewhat supernatural twist to the women in prison genre, the heroine is Ryou Kanzaki (Hamada), sentenced to ten years for killing one of the men who tormented her late sister, Manami. She died in jail, under mysterious circumstances, in the feared “Special Housing Unit One”, a segregation block. The official verdict was suicide, but Ryou is having none of that, and requests to be sent to the same complex. She soon hears whispers that “An evil force is making people go crazy,” and also learns of the titular Sigma, a legendary inmate who acts as an avenging force for abused inmates in prisons around the country, taking revenge for them before vanishing and moving on to her next task. Ryou quickly finds out that the management in this establishment don’t believe she is there to “atone for her sins”, and have no interest in the truth about Manami coming out. Not just sleazy Warden Shibayama either, but his even creepier boss, who seems to be some kind of psychic vampire, powered by fear and hate. Ryou is going to have to put aside her scruples and cozy up to Shibayama, if she wants to find out what happened to Manami.
For the genre, it’s relatively tame, not that it should be mistaken for a Disney production. Still, with only one entirely gratuitous sex scene, though a fair amount of bondage/S&M, it’s at least trying to be more than thinly-disguised porn, and credit for at least making the effort – occasionally, with some success – to generate a spooky atmosphere. It seems to be trying for something along the lines of the Female Convict Scorpion series, creating a character whose exploits are the stuff of folklore. The problem here is, what we see is hardly legendary: when she eventually makes herself known, Sigma’s exploits are not exactly the stuff of which myths are made. Though, I grant, her ability to spit needles with unerring accuracy is quite impressive. Hamada’s performance is also too low-key to be memorable; she’s no Meiko Kaji, capable of commanding the viewer’s attention through sheer presence. Indeed, the same is true for the rest of the cast; I watched this less than 24 hours ago, and I’m struggling to remember any of their faces.
However, it is at least making an effort to push the genre in something of a new direction, and Sasuga squeezes every yen’s worth out of his budget [even if this extends to a prison containing about a dozen inmates and a handful of guards]. The ending is clearly intended to open the door to an ongoing franchise, although there is no record anything ever came of it, which leaves things instead lacking in resolution. Largely forgettable, yet I’d probably rather have than than actively repellant, like some in this field.
Dir: Sasuke Sasuga
Star: Shoko Hamada, Koichi Kitamura, Momo Izawa, Kyoumi, Moonsu