Let me be clear about this: this is not a good movie. By any standard, it’s a mish-mash of Western and Samurai genres with a big dose of Mad Max-type post-apocalyptic violence. But you know what? In spite of it being kinda boring in the middle—with a highly nonsensical plot—I kinda liked it.
Nic Cage has been doing some interesting movies lately—anyone seen Pig?—terrific movie! He started out as a quirky actor, using the family name—you know, Coppola—in such movies as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he quickly decided not to trade on uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s fame, and changed his name to Cage (to honour Luke Cage of comic book fame). By Raising Arizona, he was full-fledged Nic Cage as we know him. (If you want a laugh, watch The Big Bang Theory, season six, episode 23 (“The Love Spell Potential”), in which Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz) as Dungeon Master, does a spot-on imitation of Nic at his scenery-chewing best. He even wanted, some years ago, to play Superman (Figures 2 & 3) and screen-tested for the role, with Tim Burton, of all people. Can you imagine how weird a Burton Superman movie with Nic as Supes would be?
But even though Nic named his kid Kal-El, the project eventually died (from what I’ve heard, canon wouldn’t have been in it), and Nic went back to chewing scenery, doing lots of quirky action films, like Con Air and the two Ghost Rider movies. But now, he’s more mature and considering whether a project is worth doing, like the aforementioned Pig. But he’s still a fan of quirky, and a fan of action, so we come to Prisoners of the Ghostland, directed by Sion Sono.
It’s some sort of weird post-apocalyptic samurai town in full colour; Hero (Cage) and his friend Psycho (Nick Cassavetes) come into town and head for a bank—bent on robbery.
They enter the bank, shotguns roaring, and Nic heads for the teller’s cage while Psycho menaces the customers, who are all dressed in their primary colours. A young boy with a mask on the back of his head has a large paper cup full of multi-coloured gumballs; there is a giant gumball machine on one wall. The boy offers his cup to Psycho—“Do you want some of these? They’re very tasty,” the boy says—and we cut to a long two-story red building with a front wall made of wooden cages. Inside the cages are young women in kimonos; the building has a Japanese feel, and there are paper lanterns on the second story.
As soon as a male watcher on the second-story walk goes inside, a young woman whistles, and Bernice (Sofia Boutella) along with two other women comes through a gate next to the cage building. We see that they are escaping; more women come out to urge them on. “Hurry!” they cry. One young woman calls Bernice over and gives her a “protection” bracelet… we see that all the women (including Bernice) are “comfort women.” The three hurry along and get into a car. They drive off. When next we see Bernice, she’s lying on a pallet, dressed only in a dirty shift… she goes out of the room she finds herself in, and screams “I’m not a prisoner!”
I’m not going to detail the whole movie here; but Bernice is The Governor’s (Bill Mosely’s) “granddaughter”—the young women are all his “granddaughters,” but she’s a favourite, and Hero, who was captured after Psycho started shooting up the bank, is brought out of his cage and offered his freedom by the Governor if he’ll find Bernice. He accepts, and they dress him in a stylish leather suit with some kind of round attachments at neck elbows, knees and… testicles! He’s informed that if he does certain things, like attempts to touch Bernice, threaten her, etc., these little round things are explosive and will detonate. (You can guess what sets off the ones at his genitals.) So he’s supposed to behave.
During all of this, the townsfolk are singing weird songs, wearing weird masks, and it’s all very Japanese. Then Hero goes to The Ghostland, which is very drab and colourless and non-Japanese in contrast, and we learn that even if she’s there, Bernice (as well as Hero) cannot ever leave. There are weird people wearing parts of porcelain mannequins, people dressed in white with toilet paper and more weirdos.
And then there’s a giant clock tower. People are hauling on ropes attached to the hands, to keep them from moving. Time must stand still or bad things will happen. (Hey, Nic Cage is there. Bad things will happen.) There are people preaching from the Great Books, the Rat Man and his Rat Clan, who collect auto parts and wear weird bushy shoulder-pieces, some with LEDs. And here are more people doing weird dances and chanting in unison, along with people whose costumes appear to be ornamented with lots of toilet paper (excuse me—“bathroom tissue”) as I said.
Although the settings are outro—the Ghostland, with the giant clock tower and all the porcelain faces; the Western samurai town with a sheriff; the bus full of killers led by the badly burnt Psycho, it all kind of drags on. There are some fights, Nic chews some scenery and, yes, gets one of his testicles blown off (as well as an elbow), but those things, in keeping with the other weirdness of the movie, don’t seem to stop him. And it’s all not held together very well. But hey! I like odd disconnected movies sometimes, and this is definitely one of them. If you’ve seen it, let me know how it hit you.
Comments? Brickbats? Comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). Comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!