Taken from prison and sent to an unknown island, a large group of women are being conditioned to become secret operatives against terrorism.
What They Say
It's called The Island, a maximum-security unit where Japan's baddest bad girls think they've been sent to serve time for their crimes against society. Unfortunately, as inmate 1316 is about to discover, the inmates are wrong, and unless you're one of the sadistic guards, once you enter this penal hellhole, you'll never leave alive.
In a nightmarish world of secret graveyards and machine gun executions, 1316 must use every weapon in her arsenal, including her own lethal body, in a no-holds-barred bid to survive! It's the guards' turn to be afraid, because 1316's already died and gone to hell, so she's got nothing left to lose.
Like most Switchblade Pictures releases at this time, there is only the original Japanese stereo language track here which is encoded at 224kbps. It’s a serviceable enough track considering the show is really little more than the dialogue in it and a few basic fight scenes, so it doesn’t really require more. The budget feel of the show is certainly evident enough in general but most of these kinds of films are like this to begin with, which is at times amusing considering you can get a decent personal camcorder that can record in 5.1 sound. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout however and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2004, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 but is not enhanced for anamorphic playback. The materials do look pretty good overall though with little in the way of noticeable noise or background issues with edge enhancement. Colors are pretty solid and the black levels are good looking as well. Though it won’t leap off the screen at you, it definitely has more of a video look than a film look and the letterbox approach of it just pushes that whole budget feeling. It’s not a bad looking transfer in the slightest, but it’s one that won’t really draw you in all that much either.
The cover art for this release follows standard Switchblade Pictures design with a simple black and red border surrounding the poster piece inside. The main visual is a good one this time with a close-up shot of inmate 1316 in her fatigues holding her weapon while the background has the line-up of all the women along with a few of the guards. It’s an appealing image if you like the hard edged girls with guns look and it also pushes the whole prison angle as well. The back cover is well done also as it has a prison feel with barbed wire as the dividers for each of the sections. The summary is rather detailed in comparison to some other Switchblade releases and there’s a really good set and layout of pictures in the middle that showcase the feature without much obscured. The bottom is given over to some basic production information and a good technical grid that covers everything. No show related inserts are provided nor is there a reversible cover.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally known as Yaju no Shori Join 1316, Death Row Girls is a fun little variant on the women in prison routine. Featuring as its headliner Aki Hoshino, a popular bikini model who has quite a few DVDs and acting pieces out there, it’s filled with lots of very skinny women in fatigues and black tank tops as they undergo rigorous training in a secret black ops prison facility. And the women all bathe together too! It’s the best of all worlds but without any prisoner on prisoner action going on.
The plot of Death Row Girls is stretched out over the entire film but it can be summed up very easily. With the changes in the political climate of the world in the last couple of years, Japan is finding itself unsure of how it can handle terrorism incidents that may occur from its neighboring countries. In order to work towards better handling it, one governmental organization has decided that some of the worst criminals from the penal system will be taken to a secret island where they’ll be trained and tested. The best of them will move on to phase two where they’ll be worked harder in order to become government dogs who will carry out the cold and hard missions needed to keep the country safe.
In this we’re introduced to a new arrival on the island, a young woman named Misaki. Misaki has been involved in some fairly bad stuff where she was part of a robbery that led to her killing a police officer with a knife. That landed her in prison with a life sentence until she got brought to this place. She’s fighting against everything they put her through here as she takes on the name of 1316. The life on the island isn’t exactly harsh to the viewer, but it is harsh to the girls here as they go through rigorous physical routines which wear them down mentally. Bunked with half a dozen other girls, she gets a crash course in how weary they are and how they just accept what’s going on.
Part of that comes from the belief that they’ll go back to prison if they don’t pass this first phase, something that the guards have been telling them. But there are some hints that this may not be true and 1316 is intent on finding a way off the island. Some of the girls aren’t interested but at least one other starts to work with her on it as they put their heads together to discover what the secrets of the island may be. In between getting into fights with the meanest of the mean girls here, 1316 discovers how life on the island is. Most just scrape by day to day, going through the routine, while others take advantage of themselves and use their bodies to seduce the guards in hopes of going home early. Both of these things are areas where 1316 uses it to her advantage in order to find a way out.
Much of Death Row Girls revolves around watching 1316 and the others going through their daily routines and the harshness of it. The discovery of how the island is run takes up a good chunk of the feature, something that would be covered in the first third of any Hollywood film. The feature here is pretty stretched out because of how they tease out the basics of what it’s going to be, but at the same time you do keep watching to see what they’ll actually do. The ending comes quick and hard with the sort of ambiguity you’d expect from this genre, and that actually leaves you feeling less than happy with it. That the film decided not to really explore what Phase Two is or gives a bit more meat to the storyline itself means that there isn’t much to latch onto here outside of cute girls in fatigues running around, taking baths and occasionally having sex. Oh, wait, those are selling points, aren’t they?
Death Row Girls has some fun moments to it and I liked that it was a present day storyline that had some real world moments to it, such as when it showed how 1316 got into trouble. It is in the end a women in prison movie, albeit with fatigues and tank tops instead of standard uniforms, who are being trained to become the best of the baddest in order to save Japan from terrorist threats. It’s sort of cute to see them use this angle in which to create a prison movie and you have to chuckle at some of the moments here, particularly the inclusion of a midget sized prison guard named Mouse. Like a lot of these films, it’s very light on actual material but it has that sort of vapid budget fun about it that keeps you watching just to see what else is going to happen. Or to see more boobies. But isn’t that what the internet is for now?
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.