Sion Sono Views Prisoners of the Ghostland as a Fresh Start

By | September 17, 2021

Acclaimed Japanese director Sion Sono makes his English language debut with the release of Prisoners of the Ghostland. Starring Nicolas Cage, Bill Moseley, and Sofia Boutella, the film takes inspiration from Westerns and follows Cage’s Hero as he attempts to rescue the granddaughter (Boutella) of the mysterious Governor (played by Moseley). The opening portions of the film see Cage strapped into a suit that includes testicle grenades that activate if he gets “overly excited” and it only gets wilder from there.

RELATED: Prisoners of the Ghostland Interview: Bill Moseley on How Nicolas Cage Inspired Him

After seeing Prisoners of the Ghostland, it becomes hard to imagine anyone else in the lead role of Hero as not many actors could play the role straight with so many ridiculous things happening around him. That’s why it is no surprise that Sono always envisioned Cage in the role.

“Nicolas Cage was the first choice and luckily he said yes to the project,” Sono told ComingSoon via a translator. “We met up at the very early point of the project when he decided to publicly come on board. Nicolas had already seen some of my films including Anti-Porn and some other stuff, so we immediately got along with each other.”

While getting Cage attached to the project was a big milestone, shooting didn’t go as planned. The film was originally meant to be shot in Mexico rather than Japan and much of the film was redone after Sono suffered a heart attack and production was moved to Japan. According to Sono, about 70% of the script needed to be rewritten as it wasn’t suitable to be shot in the land of the rising sun.

“The original script was already something like Mad Max and my intention for the rewrite was to go as far away from that as possible,” said Sono. “It was almost the opposite, as I didn’t get any influence from [Mad Max or Fist of the North Star]. Since I was doing the Japan shoot, I wanted to put some samurai sword action into it.”

One unlikely source of inspiration for Sono has always been the great Japanese mystery novelist Edogawa Rampo. [one more sentence briefly describing who Rampo is and what he has done in a way that also links the two]

“[I view him] more like a horror creator. I was greatly influenced by him in that way. Edogawa Rampo’s novels are very eccentric and there’s a certain craziness there in a way that we find in horror movies as well [which have influenced me].”

Crafting an English Film is a Dream Come True

Creating a primarily English film has always been a desire for Sono. Back in 1990, the eccentric director was admitted into UC Berkeley. However, rather than spending time in class or learning English, Sono spent most of his time watching B-movies and other English films for 15 months.

“I’m so happy I could finally have this English language film,” Sono explained. “From now on, this is actually the starting point for me. In the past, I’ve always directed from my own scripts, so with English language films [in the future] I want to direct with my own script.”

Sono’s new start also coincides with his breakthrough film, Suicide Circle (also known as Suicide Club internationally), becoming 20 years old. The 2001 horror film found success in film festivals and eventually won Most Groundbreaking Film at Fantasia Film Festival.

Suicide Circle was a lot like Prisoners of the Ghostland. Back then, it was my very first major film debut. Now 20 years later, I’m having the debut of the English-speaking film. I’m very grateful that almost after 20 years that I have a next step to go.”

Besides his own taste aligning more with English films, Sono has found that his work fares better internationally than in his native Japan. Back in 2009, Sono entertainingly told 3:AM Magazine that he doesn’t like Japanese audiences and that “truly every Japanese person hates” Suicide Circle.

“[My work is viewed] completely different,” Sono reiterated to ComingSoon. “Of course, Americans like certain things and [they’re] completely different from what Japanese people like. In the past, my films have been always accepted in a different way [and] positively internationally. The films in the past have made me feel like I should already be making English films.”

In recent years, streaming has made Sono’s Japanese films more widely available. The director even released The Forest of Love on Netflix to audiences worldwide. Despite the advent of streaming, Sono doesn’t believe that these deals have made a major change in his popularity.

“Even for The Forest of Love, Netflix says that it’s going to be viewed by the entire world or many territories. I don’t really believe that. I think that only Japanese people watched the film.”

Looking Forward to Sion Sono’s Future

While viewers can expect more English films from Sono, they won’t be seeing any manga adaptations. Despite adapting The Virgin Psychics, Shinjuku Swan, and Tokyo Tribe into live-action movies, Sono has no desire to continue to do that.

“I feel like the comics should just stay as comics. Those are mostly not movies to be made. In terms of Tokyo Tribe, I turned it into the musical style, so it doesn’t feel like I adapted the manga. For Shinjuku Swan, I thought it would be fun to go ahead and make it, but the producers gave it to me.”

Considering Sono’s prolific output, which has seen him release up to five films in a single year, it’s likely fans won’t have to wait long to see another film. As to why he doesn’t take much time between projects, it comes down to doing what he loves.

“I love filmmaking and want to keep shooting all the time. Because of that, I am always trying to come up with new ideas and to be ready for the next project. I keep thinking about new ideas all the time so at any point I can go ahead and move forward with new projects.”