PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND (2021)
Directed by Sion Sono
An armed robber is released from jail in order to track down the Governor of Samurai Town’s daughter, Bernice, who’s gone missing in the Ghostland. He must overcome and break the Ghostland’s curse in order to rescue Bernice and earn his freedom.
Holy hell. How can one describe Sion Sono’s latest movie, PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND? Well, if you imagine a kid being fed an excess of Smarties and sweets before bedtime then you get an idea on how daft this film is. This disjointed, amalgamation of ideas is like going on the Waltzer for 20 minutes and throwing up. There’s so much going on yet it’s utterly devoid of substance.
PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND is set in Samurai Town which on the surface looks like a typical Western town… it has a bar, a bank, and is set out in the exterior decor you’d expect. However, this particular Western town has a smattering of Japanese overtones with Asian girls and guys dressed in kimonos with the men armed with katanas whilst the women are purely presented for entertainment throughout the town. As Japanese meets American Western, the clash of cultures takes a while to digest. The Western-themed-attraction setting plays host to Bill Moseley’s white suited and booted Governor, mimicking the visage of Don Johnson in Django Unchained, as he oversees this peculiar town. As the Governor, he spends his time calling the shots with Japanese women either fawning over him or locked away behind wooden-post fronted buildings, reminiscent of a seedy, red light district but with unwilling participants.
For whatever reason, probably the fact that women aren’t treated the best in Samurai Town, the Governor’s granddaughter Bernice has made a run for it with two friends in a stolen car but has gone missing forcing the Governor to act. Rather than send his trusty personal samurai Yasujiro to find her, he releases Nicolas Cage’s character instead who’s serving time for his part in armed robbery that resulted in multiple people being killed. Tasked with bringing back Bernice (Atomic Blonde star Sofia Boutella), Cage’s Hero is promised his freedom should he complete the mission in five days though he only has three to find her. The only problem is the leather one-piece biker leathers he’s been given are rigged with explosives. Should he get aggressive with a female, the explosives on his arms will blow. If he gets aroused by Bernice, explosives positioned over his testicles will detonate. If he attempts to remove the suit, then the explosives at the neck will trigger and we wave bye-bye to Mr Cage. So, with very little option, Cage’s character Hero has to find Bernice to save his own skin and off he pops, on a bicycle no less.
This film is bizarre with a capital B. It blends old with new in a jarring way, such as the Western bank which looks period on the outside yet super clean, clinical and futuristic on the inside. We have settings like the titular Ghostland, where people end up but are unable to escape, which introduces a Max Max type aesthetic to the movie, as though we didn’t already have enough styles thrown into the mix. Characters chant, dance and screech, giggling and indecipherable in their speech. Led by Enoch, a preacher, the people are prisoners in their own Ghostland, some of which spend time yanking down the minute hand on a giant clock, afraid that if the hand moves they’ll all blow up. Stories of nuclear accidents with a bunch of hardened criminals, whilst a guy potters about making mannequins using the women who end up in the post-apocalyptic, desolate village, just confuse even more. Don’t get me started on Ratman and his cronies with their elaborate shoulder wear who tinker with the motors and machinery on the outskirts of town. Wherever Hero goes, he’s surrounded by strangeness.
With scenes jumping about from one thing to the next, PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND feels like a cut mess. It’s incoherent and eccentric with poor pacing and barebones exposition. The only real highlights are Versus star Tak Sakaguchi showing off his outstanding swordsmanship with his katana and Nicolas Cage kicking arse. Outside of that, the film leaves a lot to be desired.