One of the crucial intriguing, and positively weirdest, titles at this 12 months’s Sundance was Prisoners of the Ghostland, a surreal, dystopian sci-fi Western samurai motion epic starring Nicolas Cage as a prisoner tasked with discovering a sleazy warlord’s lacking step-granddaughter (Sofia Boutella) in an atomic wasteland populated by mannequin-faced time slaves. (I’m simplifying.) The actor may need attracted the preliminary consideration (with some purpose, since he’s phenomenal within the movie, going huge in all types of particular methods), however it quickly turned clear that Ghostland was very a lot the work of its director, the legendary and prolific Japanese auteur Sion Sono. His controversial, eclectic profession has encompassed the whole lot from a four-hour epic household melodrama about upskirt images (Love Publicity, 2008) to a horror film about hair extensions (Exte, 2007) to a postapocalyptic Japanese martial-arts hip-hop musical (Tokyo Tribe, 2015). Is it any surprise that Sion Sono calls Prisoners of the Ghostland his “Disney film”? Talking via his translator and producer Ko Mori, we talked about making his first English-language film, the trick to working shortly, and the very particular means by which Nicolas Cage says “testicle.”
Inform me about casting Nicolas Cage. Folks have come to understand him a bit extra within the final couple of years, realizing that quite a lot of these seemingly loopy roles he takes are, in truth, fairly particular. What was it about him that drew you?
No matter different folks may need mentioned about Nic Cage, for me, Nic Cage is Hollywood itself. He has Hollywood vibes throughout his face and his physique and the whole lot that comes out of him. However he’s very humble. He by no means acts like he has this entire profession and an Oscar. You know the way younger actors who’ve simply began their careers are very good? He by no means acted like he was a star. That was nice about him.
There’s a extremely fantastic line studying that Cage offers throughout a rousing speech. He says, “Had I known that today I’d be standing before you with one arm and one testicle …” However he isolates the phrase “testicle” and yells it out with such ache and anger — “TESTICLEEE!” It’s hilarious and stunning, but additionally fairly unhappy. How does a line studying like that occur? Is it within the script? Do you direct him to learn the road like that? Does he provide you with it on his personal?
Really, by the point we shot that scene, we had been getting alongside so nicely and understood one another rather well. I’d say one factor and Nic would perceive and provides me one other factor. It was an excellent communication. Generally, after we talk about a scene, Nic will give me a shock — one thing that he wouldn’t inform me forward of time. And this was a kind of strains. He by no means gave me any indication forward of time. I used to be fairly stunned, however it labored out.
You’re a really prolific filmmaker, however your movies are additionally visually placing, which isn’t one thing I affiliate with prolific filmmakers. What’s the secret, in your case, of with the ability to work a lot and so shortly, whereas making films that stay so visually elaborate?
As you may know, after I was youthful, I needed to be a poet. I like poems, and likewise brief tales. These are reasonably fast-paced — they’re created shortly, whereas filmmaking appears to take extra time. However for me, creating poems and creating brief tales is identical as filmmaking. All filmmakers ought to be like that. As soon as one thing hits your thoughts and your head as a visible picture, or any inventive thought, it is best to be capable of simply create, to let these concepts out immediately. That’s why I solely take a brief period of time. I’m not afraid of creating errors. Once I’m making a film, I’m not making an attempt to make one thing that’s one hundred pc convincing. I’d reasonably attempt to make films one after one other, with out being afraid of errors or something like that. As a result of, primary, that offers me extra motivation for the subsequent movie — to maintain taking pictures, preserve filming, to take the subsequent step. Additionally, on the finish of the day, whether or not one thing is a failure or not, it’s not my choice. I can’t actually inform. It’s different folks — the viewers — that can inform me if it’s nice or not nice. Since I can’t choose it that means, I’d reasonably simply preserve filming.
You don’t care if one thing is a failure or not when you’re taking pictures, however whenever you take a look at your earlier movies, or scenes, is there something you see now and assume was a mistake?
The reality is, I’ve bought an entire bunch of errors. Even now, I look again and give it some thought, and there are such a lot of. But when I believe an excessive amount of of it, that doesn’t assist. That doesn’t give me any motivation. And all I’ll do is endure with all these ideas of errors. So I attempt not to consider it.
Your type of filmmaking could be very excessive at occasions. Prisoners of the Ghostland is at occasions very brutal, but additionally very humorous and surreal. Do you ever take a look at one thing and assume you’ve gone too far and that you simply may lose the viewers?
Really, for this explicit movie, I attempted to not make issues too excessive. As a result of I used to be considering possibly that is going to be dropped at a wider viewers internationally. I attempted to not make this too artwork home. I centered on leisure. For me, that is what I’d name a household film. So that is for grandma, grandpa, little children. For me, it’s extra like a Disney movie. Perhaps for my subsequent challenge, I’ll attempt to have a little bit bit extra of myself.
You’ve needed to make an English-language movie for a while. Inform me about how this got here collectively.
I’ve been making an attempt for 15 years. I’ve had quite a lot of tasks. One of many better-known ones was referred to as The Lords of Chaos, which I attempted to make about ten years in the past. I grew up on American films. I watched quite a lot of American films as a child, and I at all times believed that at some point, I’d get to direct an English-speaking movie in Hollywood. So it’s come true, lastly. It wasn’t about this explicit idea; I’ve been making an attempt to make an English-language movie for therefore lengthy, I assumed this is likely to be my final probability to do it. So when my producer Ko [Mori] despatched me the script, I trusted that he’d ship me one thing nice — so I assumed, No matter that is, I ought to in all probability take it.
What had been a few of the American movies that impressed you?
It is a very troublesome query as a result of I’ve seen so many movies. I couldn’t even rely. Perhaps let’s begin with John Ford and his Western films. Then all the best way to the latest ones. I can’t actually decide any explicit movies, but when I needed to decide a filmmaker who influenced me quite a bit, it’d be Paul Verhoeven. He got here from Holland and did all these nice works in Hollywood. That’s someone I look as much as.
Except for the language, what was the largest problem of this film?
I attempted to have as little CGI as potential. So the largest problem was to create one thing on a big scale. Perhaps when you watch it you’ll really feel like we’re utilizing quite a lot of CGI, however the fact is that I attempted to shoot it virtually as a lot as potential. I put quite a lot of vitality into the manufacturing design, in addition to costumes, something visible that you simply see on the massive display screen.
It’s attention-grabbing that you simply had been considering this is able to be your huge viewers movie. It’s popping out at a time once we’re nonetheless involved about COVID, which can make it arduous for many individuals to see it theatrically, with audiences.
Sure. I grew up on watching all these movies on a giant display screen. On the flip facet, streaming and VOD, these are usually not fairly the movies that I’ve recognized. For me, movies ought to at all times be seen on a giant display screen. If that goes away, then I shall be much less motivated — at the very least, that’s what I’m afraid of.
This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.