Today marks the first day of a film festival that introduced the world to filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Ryan Coogler, and Damien Chazelle, just to name a few. It’s day one of the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
And while Sundance has helped make many directors household names, one who has long made a name for himself is Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono. The subversive, provocative director has been winning awards and dropping jaws for two decades with films like Love Exposure, Cold Fish and Tokyo Tribe. In all that time though, one thing Sono hadn’t done was make an English language film. That changes this week with the world premiere of Prisoners of the Ghostland, a genre bending action fantasy starring Nicolas Cage as an assassin who must rescue a mob boss’s daughter in a dangerous, post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Gizmodo spoke to Sono, through a translator, on the phone this week about his new film and why there was only one place he wanted to premiere his English language debut: the festival Sono most closely associates with American film culture.
“[Sion] wanted to get into Sundance,” Sono said via translator Ko Mori, who is also a producer on the film. “He’s been always thinking that if he ever makes his first American film, that [it] would [debut] at Sundance. Now that’s almost like a dream come true. He has made the very first English language film here with American cast, [thought it] should be [in] Sundance, and then fortunately, the film [was] accepted. So this means a lot to him and for his career.”
If getting into Sundance can still be that exciting for a veteran filmmaker like Sono, imagine how the other filmmakers with works debuting this week feel.
We’ll have more on the film as we get closer to release (RLJE acquired Ghostland ahead of its premiere this weekend so it will eventually get released), but the story of how Sono and Cage came together gives a pretty good idea of what this meeting of East and West meant to both men.
“Sion was quite busy at the time that we were trying to cast Nicolas Cage, so we made an offer to him with a [messsage],” Mori said. “[It said] ‘Nicolas Cage and Sion Sono, this already sounds like something you’ve never heard of.’ So everyone got excited with the offer. And fortunately, Cage was apparently a big fan of Sion Sono. He had already seen some of his films and actually loves some of Sion’s films. So Sion thinks, in a sense, that was a big part of why he decided to come aboard.”
Finally, when asked for his favourite Nicolas Cage film, Sono quickly said “David Lynch’s Wild At Heart.” It’s almost as if the two were made for each other, and the film was made for Sundance.