If director Sion Sono hadn’t had a heart attack, his latest film would not be what it is today. Sono was prepping his English-language debut, Prisoners of the Ghostland starring Nicolas Cage, to film in Mexico. However, after the life-changing event, his Oscar-winning star suggested maybe shooting in Sono’s home country of Japan would be better for the director’s health—and that’s one of the reasons we got the unique blend of genres that is Prisoners of Ghostland.
io9 spoke to Sono—known for films like Love Exposure, Cold Fish, and Tokyo Tribe—through a translator during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where the film debuted. After a few months (which is frankly better than most films have had it lately), it’s finally hitting select theaters and on-demand on September 17. When the film was going to shoot in Mexico, Sono said the “idea was truly more like a classic spaghetti Western type of film.”
However, when his heart attack moved the film’s location, his imagination perked up even more. “Cage suggested that [it would be] a good idea now to shoot in Japan,” Sono said. “And then, from that moment on, as we love to shoot in Japan, all these ideas of like classic samurais mixed with a spaghetti western [began].” As it stands now Sono believes the film is “like a new genre type” which he very much “had fun with.”
In Prisoners of the Ghostland, Cage plays a mysterious criminal who’s forced out of prison by a local mob boss. The boss (Bill Moseley) says if Cage’s character can go into a dangerous, post-apocalyptic wasteland and bring back the guy’s granddaughter (Sofia Boutella), he’ll be freed. The problem is, he has to wear a suit that will explode in three days if he’s not successful.
The film not only blends genres but is unique in that it feels both futuristic and timeless. Like maybe it’s on Earth or maybe it’s not. That ambiguity was part of Sono’s plan. “It was on purpose that I didn’t make anything clear when it comes down to time and place and even the history on this planet,” Sono said. “I completely ignored all the stuff... The real intention is that the whole thing, the whole story seems very unrealistic. But the truth is it is actually realistic with this ironic, rather critical world that I’ve created, as if it’s more cynical to really what’s going on in this world.”
So basically, Sono has created an action/sci-fi/samurai/post-apocalyptic/gangster film. It’s detached from any recognizable film reality, but also a commentary on our own. If that wild blend of ideas and thoughts sounds up your alley, Prisoners of the Ghostland is out this week.
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