Prisoner Maria - The Movie

Director: Shuji Kataoka
Year: 1995
Production Company: Gaga Communications
Running Time: 73 minutes

Prison work programs are probably a good thing in general – get the inmates out from behind walls for a while and give them something useful to do – but in Japan they have a unique work program for some prisoners with unique skills. Maria Kujo has the required talent they are looking for – when her husband was killed by a Yakuza she went looking for payback and got it along with a life sentence. Now the state owns her and if she wants early parole and a chance to see her little boy from time to time she has to do their biding. From time to time someone really bad needs killing – and who better than a prisoner with nothing to lose and a perfect alibi. So they provide Maria with a car, weapons, a great wardrobe and point her in the right direction – with threats to never allow her to see her son if she doesn’t make the kill. It has to be better recreation than wood shop.

Based on a manga, this is a live action version done on the cheap for video release. It doesn’t rise above a TV film for the most part except for the inclusion of some nude scenes  - though oddly only from a few not so attractive actresses while Noriko Aota remains generally covered even during the mandatory love scene. This is all the more odd because naked pictures of her are all over the Internet. Apparently, she is a pop singer who has done a number of picture book layouts – the only other film credit I could find is Miike’s “Dead or Alive 2”. The picture quality from the Tokyo Shock DVD is fairly murky, but she still looks quite appealing even if her acting doesn’t consist of much more than a few basic expressions. There is nothing in the film as sexy as the cover on the DVD – if only – also the DVD has a stated running time of 90-minutes while the film falls much shorter at 73 minutes – not that more padding was really desired.
The first kill in the movie gives a nice kick – dressed in a bright red can can dress, Maria dances on stage as entertainment at a club frequented by sneering guys who have to check their weapons at the door. As she drapes herself over one particularly snaky looking guy, she pulls a blade out of her stocking and gives him a permanent necktie and then has to hightail it out of the club with a blizzard of bullets headed in her general direction. This doesn’t seem to be the best laid escape and only the poor shooting of the gang allows her to get away. Her reward for this – back to her bare cell and nary a word of encouragement – not even a “nice kill, kid” and a friendly pat on the back. At least she got to dress nicely for the evening – spiffy dress, high heels and a flower in her hair. She is fairly particular about looking her best when she kills – my favorite was the sleek white plastic gown – perfect material for washing off the blood after she slices another guy up – practical and sporty.
Her next assignment is a serial killer who enjoys using an electronic stun girl on women and then taking them back to his place where he practices his high school dissection classes on them. He is the son of a powerful politician and she gives them permission to eliminate him before the police track him down. This case becomes a little more complicated though when it leads Maria to a creepy psychiatrist who thinks he is God (are there any other kind) and who is practicing mind control on his patients. He also has links to a Taiwanese mob into slave trading. A cop in a white trench coat named Igarashi is after the Taiwanese gang and he and Maria cross paths and soon cross bodies as well – who are you he asks – what if I told you I am an assassin – oh, ok.
The film makes the mistake of breaking the girls with guns rules – the appeal of this genre for many of its fans is that it projects strong female power often with no need at all for male help or companionship. Here even though Maria is a trained professional killer, as soon as the broad shouldered cop appears she seems to lose her powers and he has to save her life two times – though admittedly she does bounce back to take on the Taiwanese mob on her own. After one of those times when she was beaten pretty badly, she rewards him with a roll in the sheets. For those brought up on Hong Kong girls with guns, the Japanese equivalent is a bit like a weak sister – they tend to be much more exploitive in nature with lots of nudity – don’t have actresses with trained fighting skills – and seem to be aiming at a different type of audience than the action junkies who love the HK films. In both cases they are niche films for the most part – most of the Japanese ones are straight to video while the Hong Kong ones generally were produced by small independent companies for specialized markets.

My rating for this film: 5.5