Supposedly the first real women in prison [WIP] film by Nikkatsu in their Roman Porno roster, True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell / Jitsuroku onna kanbetsusho: sei-jigoku (1975) stays fairly true to the genre, following the conventions found in the Roger Corman-produced efforts during the seventies, and eighties crap like Concrete Jungle (1982) and the raw Red Heat [M] (1985).
The film begins with a group of shackled juvenile delinquents (er, twentysomething master thespians) being transported and admitted into a detention centre, where they must behave, or be re-channeled into a formal women’s prison. As three young heroines attempt to assimilate with their peers in a small concrete cell, they do their best to avoid being manhandled, womenhandled, impregnated, peed on (perhaps the most unsuccessful of them all), goaded into a catfight, tossed into solitary confinement with painful restraints, and mount an escape.
Alliances are fostered, broken, rekindled and maintained, while director and co-writer Koyu Ohara really finds pleasure in letting his ‘scope camera hover close to bodily functions. Nevermind the assault sequences (of which more prolonged efforts appear in the film’s sequel); Ohara’s camera makes sure to capture shit-stained toilets and holes in the grounds, and when shackled, it’s equally important audiences see how unsuccessful the young inmates are in relieving themselves without the aid of hands.
Unlike the sequel, Sex Hell features enough backstory flashbacks to add dimensions to the pitiful heroines, and their fluctuating alliances also ensure scenes keep jumping from physical confrontations to collective scheming, and a finale involving a jailbreak that allows a few aggrieved heroines to mete out some sharply rendered payback.
At 71 mins., Sex Hell is neatly paced and beautifully shot with dramatic lighting, and the bluesy pop-jazz score by Downtown Boogie Woogie Band (credited for scoring Ohara’s first three WIP films) also gives the film an appropriately sleek & sleazy veneer.
Impulse’s DVD sports a clean transfer, and like most of their Nikkatsu entries, there’s just a booklet with liner notes by Japanese film historian Jasper Sharp.
Ohara’s entries in the WIP series include True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell (1975),True Story of a Woman in Jail: Continues [M] (1975), New True Story of a Woman’s Detention Centre: Love Hell (1976), and Female Convict 101: Suck (1977). Also available from Impulse / Synapse is Ohara’s unambiguously titled I Love It from Behind! (1981) and the S&M cult classic Fairy in a Cage [M] (1977).
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan