The moment a crotch bomb blows off Nic Cage’s nut in the first act The prisoner of the ghost, and Cage kicks into a manic gear that only he possesses, it’s clear that Japanese writer Sion Sono found a creative soulmate. The visionary director behind cross-border genre films like The exposure of love, Why don’t you play in hell, and Tokyo tribe cast Cage in his post-apocalyptic Western samurai odyssey and perhaps presumably settled with the human equivalent of gravity. The actor bends genre to his will and in The prisoner of the ghost, his presence becomes crucial for Sono to avoid simple pastiche.
Sono tells Polygon that he intends to work with Cage again – this time in a film shot in America – but for now he is more than happy to celebrate the release of the film, which hit cinemas and VOD on September 17th. interview, conducted over Zoom with a translator, illuminates the director, where his elementary film originated and how he worked with Cage to make it all work.
Polygon: What do you see as the big difference between Japanese action movies and Hollywood action movies?
Zion They are: So I think the big difference you see in Japanese action movies … goes back to all the movies from e.g. Kurosawa, or some action movies from Hong Kong, is that there are virtually no explosions or large cannons. It is more like they use the body. The action is literally the work of your body, it is the thought. Unlike American action movies, [where] it is more the equipment itself and the cannons.
I grew up in American cinema, Hollywood movies. So it was pretty organic for me [to make one]. Even while I was making all these Japanese movies in the past, I was a little foreign to Japan because my ideas and things all came from […] the influences I got from the American Hollywood movies, European movies. So this time it was pretty natural for me. And it was even easier for me to get into this for the action stuff.
Which movies swirled around your memories while you conceived the movie?
I had quite a few movies in mind when I created the world of The prisoner of the ghost. I put some essence off Blade Runner, some essence from The mole from [director Alejandro] Jodorowsky and the satire from Federico Fellini. These classics and other movies that I grew up on. They might be in there.
As in these films, the costume and design really bring the film to life.
There are some different sections that you see in the movie, like the bank scene where the hero and the psycho character come in to steal the bank. We created that scene with a Japanese traditional festival tone with the costumes. And Ghostland is completely different. It’s like a refugee camp, no Japanese element in it. They’m stuck there. And the samurai city is like all the Kurosawa movies together in that city. So there was an east-west feeling there.
I love the film’s interpretation of American culture – how did you end up with the governor character, who dresses all in white, wears a cowboy hat and speaks with a southern twang?
For Japanese like myself, the picture of the governor, I immediately thought it should be a picture of the old guy from KFC. So somehow the older white stuff comes out of it. I do not mean right, Colonel Sanders, the guy in Kentucky Fried Chicken […] I’m not saying he’s a bad guy. It’s just the image of this white suit.
How did you talk to Nic about interpreting the western action movies you loved? Did you look at his previous roles?
There’s not really a character that I tried to use from any movie that Nic Cage has acted in. But the one thing is that Nic really likes Charles Bronson from his 70s movies. Nic and I discussed a lot about it and had fun with it. And we decided that maybe we should bring some of the older Bronson roles to this. So even on set, Nic would bring the soundtracks from old Sergio Leone movies and we listened to it. So that part we definitely had fun creating the character together.
Nic definitely likes something. The scene where his bomb goes off and explodes his testicle looked very painful. Was it a real detonation of some kind?
Yes. The goal was to try to make it as practical as possible on set. So for this testicle explosion scene, I felt sorry for Nic, but we did not really have a choice. My goal was to make this practical, so that was what happened. It looks very real.
The prisoner of the ghost is now in cinemas and can be rented on Amazon, Appleand other VOD platforms.