True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell Review

Former nurse Houjou Mayumi (Kozue Hitomi) arrives at juvenile hall, where she’s to share company with several newly interned delinquents. Included amongst them is prostitute Harumi (Hiromi Maya), who immediately sets sights on capturing the heart of the facility’s Queen-Bee, Hiromi (Seri Kaori). Mayumi quickly adapts to the nature of this food chain but keeps to herself, while those around succumb to the depraved hands of their jailors. Mayumi’s mysterious past causes curiosity amongst her inmates and surrounding officers but her silence only harbours a deep rage as she calculatingly waits for a perfect opportunity to escape.

Of literally just a handful of Nikkatsu Roman Porno ‘Women in Prison’ titles, the True Story of a Woman in Jail… series has remained about the most prolific. Though director Kôyû Ohara would make no less than four entries, much emphasis can be placed on the first three titles starring Kozue Hitomi in the title role of Mayumi, a girl destined it seems, to be perpetually on the receiving end of male deception.

Kozue was already a little seasoned by the time these features rolled around, having been a popular Nikkatsu player at the beginning of their Roman Porno reign, with performances in flicks such as Female Teacher: Private Life, True Story of Sex and Violence in a Female High School and Sukeban Deka: Dirty Mary. During the time of those movies Toei had already put out its Female Prisoner films starring cult favourite Meiko Kaji, of which the first three stories played out as a working trilogy, thanks to Shunya Ito at the helm (the series would continue under new direction). While that series was stylistically a different beast altogether it no doubt played a small part in the evolution of Ohara’s work.

Kozue appears here with a steely determination, in many respects not far removed from that of Kaji’s stoic portrayal as Sasori, with few lines uttered and a reliance on her sexual confidence. In fact Sex Hell is all too familiar and in true staple fashion of the sub-genre the clichés come thick and fast as we learn our heroine has been thrown in the clink thanks to some asshole with no bloody scruples. And – much like herself – her fellow inmates are to be sympathised with through similar means of understanding, which makes for a predictable outcome of sorts, though arguably an acceptable one through depicting its male characters as sexually depraved beasts, despite being fully opportunistic toward exploiting its female players.

Still, whilst the jumpy narrative may not be entirely subtle nor original, it at least looks the part. Rather dark and dirtied, Ohara paints a perfectly hopeless surrounding and fills it with obligatory disrepute, which struts merrily between the mildly humorous and awkwardly disturbing. The sex is handled in a manner to be expected: strategically angled bodies and large shafts of light obscure the obvious bits, leaving a lot of close-ups on faces and breasts to get the job done. These moments tend to feel drawn out and its through some of Ohara’s quirkier set-ups that it provides us with a little more to remember.


Released through Impulse Pictures, Sex Hell has undergone a loving transfer, as overseen by the chaps at Synapse. Presented anamorphically at 2.35:1 the picture is a tad soft but detail is fine overall, with crisp colours, solid contrast and black levels and is practically blemish-free.

Likewise, there’s little wrong with the original Japanese mono track, which offers a nice balance between its clear dialogue and the funky-dunky soundtrack by the Downtown Boogie Woogie Band. Optional English subtitles are also included, providing an excellent translation that’s free from errors.

There are no bonus features.

Kevin Gilvear

Updated: Sep 18, 2012

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