Director Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage. Who could have foreseen this exciting combination? The genius who has produced shocking and sensational films such as “Love Exposure” (2009), “Cold Weather” (2011), “Himizu” (2012), and “Why in Hell is it Bad” (2013), how will he “cook” the Academy Award-winning actor who has appeared in many outrageous films in recent years? How will he “cook” an Academy Award-winning actor who has appeared in many outrageous films in recent years? The answer was an ultra-mad, chaotic, genre-less movie.
Prisoners of Ghostland” (released on October 8), Sono’s Hollywood debut, is a racy mix of Eastern and Western, ancient and modern cinema. However, according to Sono, he had originally planned to make a hardcore macaroni western. “We asked Sono about the behind-the-scenes process of making this film, along with the passionate episodes with Nicolas Cage, with whom he says, “We just get along.
One day, a bank robber hero (Nicolas Cage) attacks a bank in Samurai Town, but gets caught. Hero is thrown in jail in a loincloth, but is set free on the condition that he brings back Bernice (Sofia Boutella), a favorite of the powerful governor (Bill Moseley). However, he is forced to wear a bombed-out body suit and finds himself in a new predicament where he must complete his mission within five days or be bombed to death. ……
–I heard that the project started in 2017. How did you receive the offer?
Producer Mori Ko (Uzumasa Limelight (14), Son of the Sun (21), etc.) received a script from Reza Sixo Safi, and Mori recommended me. When I received the script, I was in the middle of promoting the Amazon Prime Video drama “Tokyo Vampire Hotel” (17), so I read it all at once and immediately said yes.
I’ve always wanted to make a movie in Hollywood, and for more than 15 years I’ve been going there about once a year to give a presentation. Sometimes I would bring my own proposals, and other times I would attend other people’s auditions. Some of them went on to be produced, but due to various factors, they never materialized, and 15 years passed.
The script that I received this time was a simple story about a hero who recovers the daughter of a great man and comes back to his home, which I felt was easy to arrange. In fact, I reworked about 60% of the finished product (laughs).
(laughs) So you felt that there was room and freedom to inject your own colors?
Yes, that’s right. That’s also why I felt that I should definitely do it. I myself was raised on American movies from the time I was in the first grade, and while everyone else was watching the Drifters or singing shows, I was inundated with the works of John Wayne and John Ford at the Western Theater on TV. I even wrote “Ingrid Bergman” in my elementary school graduation essay in the “People I Admire” column, and my teacher got really mad at me (laughs).
(Laughs) I’ve lived my life that way, so for me, “making movies = making Hollywood movies,” and I thought of it as a natural progression rather than a longing.
What was your impression of Nicolas Cage?
The first film I saw was “Birdie” (1984). At the time, I thought Nicolas Cage was “Hollywood airhead”. I thought he didn’t exist, but he was actually alive (laughs). I was surprised when he was chosen to play the lead in Prisoners of Ghostland.
I was surprised when I was chosen to play the lead in Prisoners of Ghostland. Everyone was relieved, and I myself was convinced that this was going to be my first film in Hollywood. Nicholas himself is a proactive guy, and when he visited Japan, he personally asked me to meet him. I met him there and told him, “I’ve seen many of Sono’s films, but there’s one in particular that I love. He said, “I have seen many of his films, but there is one in particular that I love: ‘Anti-Porno’ (17).
It was a part of Nikkatsu’s “Roman Porno Reboot Project”.
Yes. Well, it’s quite a maniacal choice (laughs). (laughs) I was very happy, and I felt a sense of trust even before we started shooting.
In the beginning, I was thinking of a macaroni western set in Mexico. For example, it would be like Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968), and I was thinking of having Nicholas play the main character in the style of Charles Bronson. When I told him that, his eyes lit up and he said, “I’ve always wanted to play Charles Bronson myself.
Actually, Nicholas is such a fan that he has a custom-made replica of the hat that Charles Bronson wore. We got along so well that we went to Shinjuku Golden Gai and sang The Doors at karaoke (laughs). (laughs) We also played Ennio Morricone’s music on the set.
–What was the reason for the change in the content of the film? What was the reason for the change of location?
It’s because I had an acute myocardial infarction in February of 2019, and my baby had just been born two days before, and I went to the spirit world for a minute. I had just had a baby two days before, and I went to the spirit world for a minute. Nicholas was worried about that, and he asked me if I was really okay to go to Mexico. He suggested that it would be better to shoot in Japan because of the travel.
But this kindness was a blow to me. I had been promoting my film for 15 years because I wanted to make a Hollywood movie, but it was impossible for me to shoot my debut film in Japan. I had decided that I would make my debut film in Japan, and that all the crew and cast would be from there, and I would be the only Japanese. So at that moment, I was as shocked as if all the whites in Othello had turned to black.
However, when I thought about it while my heart was resisting so much, I came to realize that this was a Hollywood movie, so it would be quite natural to set it in Mexico. Instead, I thought it would be more interesting to have Nicholas rampaging with a sword on a period set in Japan, so I changed my mind 180 degrees. At first, I was thinking of a legitimate macaroni and cheese western, but I decided that if it was going to be set in Japan, it should be chaotic, so I rewrote about 60% of the script to include elements of laughter.
Originally, the main focus of the film was car action, but I thought chambara was the way to go, so I offered the role to Taku Sakaguchi (TAK∴). He didn’t have a role, so I added my own. I condensed the car action into the scene where Nicholas rides his mom’s bike (laughs).
–That’s how the framework was created. The huge sets, such as Ghostland and Samurai Town, were also very impressive.
I didn’t want to use CG at all, so I decided to make all the sets. As a result, I strangled myself (laughs), but that’s what I stuck to. We ran out of budget to shoot the bank scene, so we thought, “Why don’t we shoot it at a bank around here? But that was impossible because we had always used artificially created things. So we worked together to create a pure white set with poisonous colors to give it a stateless feel.
The sense of color was also interesting, for example, the symbolic appearance of red.
Yoshiwara has an image of red, after all. When I was still planning to shoot the film in Mexico, I drew storyboards for all the cuts and visual images of important scenes, saying, “This will be my debut film in Hollywood, so I’m going to take every precaution. After the film was shot on location in Japan, I couldn’t redraw everything, but I divided it into different parts.
(Showing the visual image) The idea of the ghostland with the giant plant that was created by radiation …… has not changed since the beginning. When I was shooting in Mexico, I also used images of cherry blossoms, and there were some Japanese elements in the film.
There were a lot of crowd scenes in this film, what was the hardest part about shooting such a large scale?
Anyway, it was all about hard work (laughs). (laughs) We shot Ghostland on a set at a former factory deep in the mountains of Hikone, and it was really cold. …… The extras’ expressions naturally became more desolate, and we were able to get some good looks (laughs).
So that’s what happened (laughs). As for the Ghostland set, the huge clock in the center and the mannequins with sores left a strong impression on me.
The clock actually stops one minute before the atomic bomb hits Hiroshima. Because of that, the residents say, “Don’t move the clock. Also, in the picture story that appears in the film, that place looks just like the Atomic Bomb Dome. I thought that if we were going to film in Japan, we had to include Hiroshima (the atomic bombing) and Fukushima (the Great East Japan Earthquake), so I included those keywords in some places.
When I told Nicholas and Sofia (Butera) about it, they both voluntarily went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and said, “Well, I’ll go study. “It was wonderful. It was wonderful, it shook me to the core. I was really happy when he said, “It’s really good to include this kind of element when shooting in Japan.
–That’s a wonderful episode. I can feel the bond between director Sono and the cast.
As for Sofia, she was actually helped by director Gaspar Noé (Alex (2002), Enter the Void (2009), etc.). She and Noe worked together on “Climax” (18), and when she received the offer, Noe strongly suggested that she should definitely be in Sono’s film. When I heard that story, I thought, “Gaspar Noe is a good guy” (laughs).
–that kind of episode can be found at ……!
Director Noe had seen quite a few of my films, didn’t he? By the way, he likes “Anti-Porn”. Sophia also said she liked “Anti-Porn”.
–Nicolas Cage is also a favorite of mine, so I guess I’m very popular overseas.
It’s a little strange, isn’t it (laughs)? (laughs) I heard that there are many fans of my films in China, so when I asked them about my most popular film, it was also “Anti-Porn”. I guess there’s a difference in temperature between China and Japan, or maybe there’s something about my films that appeals to people overseas. I would like to pursue this area in the future.
After a variety of experiences, you made your Hollywood film debut with this movie. Please tell us how you are feeling now.
Hollywood doesn’t place much importance on your career in Japan. That’s why it was difficult for me to make my debut, but from now on, “Prisoners of Ghostland” will be my business card. I’m sure it will make it easier to get projects approved, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. I’d like to move on so that I can start filming my second film soon.
Prisoners of Ghostland
Roadshow at TOHO CINEMAS HIBIYA and other venues nationwide from October 8 (Fri.)!
Cast: Nicolas Cage Sofia Boutella Bill Moseley Nick Cassavetes
TAK∴ Yuzuka Nakaya YOUNG DAIS Rorena Furudo Kanon Nawata
Director: Sion Sono
Screenplay: Aron Hendry, Reza Shikso Safai
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Distributor in Japan : Bitters End
Source: POTGJP Partners (Bitters End, Nippon Cable Television Network, Tokiwa Real Estate, Shin Matsuda & Co.
Certified Public Accountants, Quaras)
Original Title: Prisoners of the Ghostland
USA / 2021 / Color / 105min / PG-12
Official Website: bitters.co.jp/POTG
Interview and text： SYO
Born in Fukui Prefecture in 1987. Born in Fukui Prefecture in 1987. Studied visual and theatrical expression at Tokyo Gakugei University. After graduating from university, worked for a film magazine editing production company before becoming a film writer. Has worked on a wide range of projects including interviews, reviews, news articles, columns, event reports, and recommendation comments.