Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41


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The 2nd film in the series, and one of the most incredibly creative, strange and unsettling of its era. I’ve tried to reflect the evolution of the series within this artwork, which came via a very different process to the first image. The #701 poster was confined to a diamond shape to reflect the story’s containment within the prison, with the dark blue and white colour scheme of the main image used to evoke the uniform colours of the general prison population. The pale blue and yellow were used to offset and compliment this, while referencing the original cinema release poster. With this film, I knew I would want to break out of that restricted shape space, in the same way that the characters break out of the prison. After trialling a few failed attempts to create a ‘breakout’ type of image, I was struck by the stunning split diopter shot early in the film of a bound Matsu on the floor of a dank solitary confinement cell, towered over by the villainous warden and his two lackeys under the glare of a harsh blue light.

I knew immediately that this would be the foundation of my image, right in the bottom 1/3 of the frame, the defiant but temporarily defeated heroine before she leads a ragtag group of prisoners on an impromptu, hallucinogenic jailbreak. It was dark, subterranean, illustrates the odds she will have to overcome. I also knew that the title would have to sit just above this, to divide the poster into the ‘before and after’ chapters representing the imprisoned opening, and the remainder of the film which sees her on the run. That left the top half (approximately) of the poster – and after rewatching the film a couple of times, one of which to gather as many screenshots as I thought might be helpful, I realised that the dominant image could only be the moment where Matsu takes some kind of enchanted dagger from a mysterious old woman in a forest. This shot, where Meiko Kaji looks right down the lens as a mysterious wind whips her hair up vertically, is her iconic hero moment. Free of the bonds of prison, commanding nature, more some kind of legend or spirit than a mere person. This sequence also inspired an idea – to tint the poster beneath a black riso-style, pixellated collage with a holofoilesque colour spill – like petrol and water mixing. The palette was lifted from the film itself – the orange light that gives Kaji’s hair a sort of halo, reflected also in the autumnal leaves which blow across the screen; the acid-y pinks and purples of the forest sequence and the wild fantasy/dreams that punctuate throughout; the pale greens that stand in for sickly moonlight; the harsh light blues of the prison cell. The black of the main image was essential given the gloom of the shacks in which the women lie low while being hunted.

To accompany that image of Matsu with her blade (the hair had to be replaced as the frame cut off the top – I ended up going more stylised that in the film itself as reference material was scarce, and I needed the effect to be very bold), I knew I wanted to see the women escaping, and the stakes if they were caught. Initially this section was far busier, including the prison guards the women kill during their escape, and a burning truck, but in the end I went with a shot of a tracker dog and the pursuing officers. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know how the dog plays a fairly shocking role in proceedings. I also grabbed a shot of the destroyed town in which the women hide – the sight of a town abandoned to ash and decay cannot help but evoke the devastation of wartime Japan. The mountains behind allowed for a sense of scale to play with (the prison guards are not of course intended to look like they are physically right behind the women – I hoped that the collage nature of the poster would be an evocation, not a believable representation) and the serendipitous placement of a central mountain made for a natural base to the image of Matsu, just off centre to make space for her knife-carrying hand. This was snipped out and adjusted to pop out from behind the horizon line – multiple other fixes were made to the wardens, the women, and the environment to hide any seams, to extend backgrounds or characters where cropped by the frame (all screenshots were taken direct from the movie in regular HD resolution, so the widescreen matting did remove a lot of essential information – see if you can spot the leg that I had to shove into the image from a frantic Google image search). The forest behind Matsu was snipped from a slightly earlier shot as I preferred the way the trees looked, with a wider shot of Matsu removed and covered up. Leaves were added from stock photography, tweaked, as all images, within the Studio 2am ‘Riso Effect’ workspace to ensure that they stood out against the backdrop enough. In all, there are about 22 layers of risoprint-processed assets, plus some brush work to connect them together.

The title was lifted whole from a screenshot of the movie itself, simply cleaned up as an image trace in Illustrator. The red colour comes straight from the film, and I thought made a strong contrast with the already busy design. Logos like the Toei Studios imprint, and the unusual, small symbol that sits next to the title (I still do not know what this means – I think it is something akin to the Eastmancolor, or Technicolor, trademarks?) were lifted from the earlier poster – the former lifted from a logo repository website, the latter actually created in Illustrator from geometric shapes). Shun’ya Itō’s director credit made for a bold split down the lower middle image, and that also dictated the acting credits going in vertically, rather than horizontally. This was also inspired by the original release poster, which listed its credits in this alignment, reading from right to left starting with Meiko Kaji.

In all, the conception of this design took up far more of my headspace than the previous. Working without a sketched layout made getting started very difficult, but in the end the film itself was inspiring, and gathering screenshots led to ideas forming throughout. I had originally intended this series of posters to resemble each other much more closely, but I hope that there is enough connective tissue that they do seem of a piece, while representing the spirit of the differing films.

If you like this poster, please head over to my Etsy shop to pick up a limited edition giclee print! I have mastered this work on A1 size paper, but 2 more sizes are available if you want to pair this with the A3 #701: Scorpion poster. You can order as a standalone A1 giant print – I can confirm, the good people at Atom Printing do amazing work! On the larger scale there is a huge amount of detail which is lost in the digital version above. And you can buy shirts of this design over at Teemill right now! Available in long sleeve, short sleeve and a variety of cuts, as always printed to order on sustainable shirts.

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