Sion Sono, the visionary director behind boundary-breaking genre films like Love Exposure, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, and Tokyo Tribe, describes himself as something of an outsider in his home country of Japan. Sono, unlike many of his contemporaries, grew up on a diet of Hollywood action movies. So it was only a matter of time before he applied his bombastic-but-refined sensibilities to an English-language movie with close connections to his favorite films of the past. Which is how he wound up making a post-apocalyptic samurai Western with a star of equal, extreme caliber: Nicolas Cage.
Prisoners of the Ghostland takes no prisoners ... of ... the ghostland ... as it follows Cage’s bank robber character on a mission into an atomic wasteland to rescue a Colonel Sanders-esque mob boss’ daughter. It’s part Mad Max, part Shaw Brothers fight film, part Hook, part 28 Days Later, part ’70s revenge flick, part Fistful of Dollars, part everything. No one movie from Cage’s past convinced Sono that the often-unhinged actor was the right guy to plug into his cinematic Frankenstein’s monster, but they immediately bonded over how the character, “Hero,” should also feel like a remix of classic action personas.
“Nic really likes Charles Bronson from his movies from the ’70s,” Sono told Polygon via translator in the lead up to the film’s 2021 Sundance Film Festival premiere. “And [we] discussed a lot about that and having fun with it. We decided that maybe we should bring some of the older Bronson roles to this. And then on set, Nic would bring the soundtracks from old Sergio Leone films and we listened to it. So that part we definitely had fun creating the character together.”
Working with Cage, and smashing together Eastern and Western iconography to make something wildly distinct, was just one step toward Sono’s ultimate goal: to finally make a movie in America. The director says he expects to shoot his next film in Hollywood, whenever that’s possible. And when he does, he hopes his Prisoners of the Ghostland star is involved.
“Right now, I can’t tell much about [the story], but one thing I could tell you is that I’ve been communicating with Nic Cage all the time, you know, over the texts. We are talking that maybe it’d be good to work together on some projects. So there may be some opportunities for the future to work with him again.”
After taking the first-ever virtual Sundance by storm, Prisoners of the Ghostland is expected to arrive in theaters and/or VOD later this year courtesy of RLJE Films. Look out for a longer chat with Sion Sono around the time of release.