Prison Girl Review

Though Naoyuki Tomomatsu may be better known overseas amongst horror aficionados for his 2001 zombie-horror Stacy and the 2009 horror comedy mash-up Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, his heart has primarily belonged to the pink cinema scene, which he entered into during the early 90s. His most prolific feature of that decade was Kogyaru-gui: Osaka terekura hen (a.k.a. Eating Schoolgirls: Osaka Telephone Club), which put him on the path to directing several Pink Grand Prix faves; one such feature (earning an honourable mention at the Grand Prix) was 2008’s Female Prisoner Ayaka, released in the U.S. on DVD as Prison Girl.

The film centres on Ayaka Kaminuma (Asami), who has been suffering from a recurring dream since her teen years, which involves her as a prisoner who is regularly subjected to unwarranted searches, which often culminate in sexual molestation by the hands of her malevolent warden. Her husband, Kenji (Hiroaki Yanagi), insists that she sees a psychiatrist and after her first visit she’s prescribed with sleeping pills. Deciding to continue with her therapy, she soon realises that perhaps the cause of her nightmares is related to her loveless marriage; a manifestation which eventually turns into lustful thoughts and threatens to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

The term “Sexless Marriage/Relationship” has been banded about quite a bit when attempting to deconstruct partnerships beset by various forms of discord, moreover whether or not it actually holds any truly worrying factors, depending on how literally it’s taken. In Japan it’s an issue which highlights a wider concern with regards to the way in which its social systems are digested by the media; a topic which has been thoroughly examined, though remains largely speculative, with some polls as recent as last year bringing to light a reality which suggests that the problem may well be attributed to intrinsic social barriers. Though Japan has taken great strides in promoting equality between genders, the pressures on women to marry at a young age and bear a child still hold a great deal of weight. The continual decrease in birth rates, rising costs of living and the worrying transition of a young society becoming increasingly compartmentalised, has seen a major shift in modern times. With the subsidence of an older generations’ ideals, a younger one has tried to adopt a more independent stance and along with it a different outlook on living.

These are topics which warrant further discussion outside of a review for a film which has been designed to fulfil sexual fantasies, though clearly select elements exist in the framework of Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s Prison Girl, however slight they may appear. The idea of a person either eschewing traditional values or living a comfortable lie in accordance to what’s expected of them does resonate on an empathetic scale, lending a psychologically haunting quality to a film which otherwise contains its share of forgettable moments.

Tomomatsu, who hasn’t shied away from dishing out social satire in other works (see my review of Vampire Girl VS. Frankenstein Girl), sticks to a more serious tone here, using the backdrop of an obviously convenient marriage to fuel a tale which is admirable in its attempts to blur fantasy and reality. Meeting the usual requirements, which often see Pink Films roughly made up of 50% story and 50% sex, Tomomatsu doesn’t do half bad in delivering a solid thirty minutes or so of twisting narrative, during which his actors show up under different guises as Ayaka’s consciousness drifts in and out of reality. Working with screenwriter Chisato Okawara, the director crafts some nice sequences, though while his film highlights additional familial burdens such as debt and attempts to bring to the fore unsavoury social aspects like the Enjo-Kosai (“Compensated dating”) scene, there’s just too little time to ideally explore their effects due to the excessively repetitious nature of the feature’s sex scenes, which are worsened by exaggerated sound effects and prolonged static takes.

Asami, though, deserves a great deal of praise for anchoring Prison Girl. She in fact won a Best New Actress award at the 21st Pink Grand Prix for her efforts as the hapless Ayaka; a role which is both nuanced and at times freakishly harrowing. Taking great pains to portray her character in a realistic light, she wins over sympathy for her overall sense of entrapment, both in her envisioned prison climate and via the pressures of her seemingly real one - always captivating however miserable the outcome gets.

The Disc

Those of you who have read my previous reviews for Pink Eiga releases, or who have even obtained them on DVD, will be all too aware of the problematic transfers they tend to receive. It’s an area that I’ve discussed several times, not only with Pink Eiga themselves but also other independent distributors, who have little choice but to work with what they’re sent.

Pink Eiga has decided to officially release statements in answer to this, which basically boils down to limited funds preventing them from using original masters and simply put up with being sent sub-standard video transfers. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the Pink Film scene, these films are still looked upon as being expendable commodities, that have little turn around, so it doesn’t appear likely that the Japanese companies making them will have any desire in the future to preserve them in a manner that they deserve to be. To make matters worse, the Japanese government censorship board has now ceased screening 35mm films, which signals the end of Pink Films being shot on film and primarily recorded on video.

So with that said, don’t expect anything amazing from Prison Girl; a film which looks much older than it really should. Colours are fitting for the overall tone, but are still a little too drab and lifeless, with poor contrast and black levels. There’s a ludicrous amount of haloing present and it’s hard to say if it’s down to Edge Enhancement on Pink Eiga’s part or if the original distributors have done some dodgy tinkering themselves. Whatever the case, it is what it is, but with current DVD prices the way they are, it’s perhaps a little more unfortunate for buyers and a distributor having to wrestle with acquiring these films and keeping their heads afloat.

Sound quality is equally average, don’t expect any high-end treatment here. We’ve a Japanese mono track, which handles dialogue clearly. English subtitles are embedded onto the transfer.

Bonus features are slight but welcome. There’s a short interview with lead actress Asami, who comes across genuinely sweet, talking briefly about her time making Prison Girl and how she feels about the industry. A featurette entitled “What is Pink Eiga?” also accompanies the disc. With contributions from various industry insiders, this is a piece which serves as a nice enough intro for those new to the Pink Cinema scene. Its content is largely carried over from previous Pink Eiga releases, so some may find themselves skipping this one. Also present is some filler material, such as artwork and a slideshow, along with international trailers and previews of other Pink Eiga titles.

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