In some unspecified time in the future in the distant future, lengthy after nuclear holocaust or airborne plague has worn out the human race, some movie critic (we’re like cockroaches, positive to outlive such an apocalypse) will little doubt uncover a listing of the tasks Nicolas Cage has turned down, and it’ll lastly develop into clear how the actor decided the course of his profession.
For a couple of dozen years, from mid-’90s Bruck-buster “The Rock” via household hamster-tainment “G-Drive,” it has appeared that the ka-ching of a money register will need to have been the deciding issue, however in the dozen years since, a sample has emerged that Cage isn’t merely cashing checks however could actually be shaping the world’s most eccentric filmography by design.
Proof constructive is his settlement to make “Prisoners of the Ghostland” with Japan’s resident weird-meister Sion Sono — a revolving place that quantities to being the unofficial poet laureate of excessive psychosexual shlock, one which’s been handed from Nagisa Oshima right down to Takashi Miike via the years and now lands squarely on the shoulders of prolific provocateur Sono (“Love Publicity,” “Antiporno”). Such administrators get pleasure from a time in the solar, when movie festivals searching for one thing far outdoors the realm of the traditional determine the taste du jour deserves to be championed.
Simply when Sono appeared to have handed his expiration date, the Japanese director has agreed to splatter-paint his first majority-English-language function, selecting a half-baked samurai Western whose wild-eyed antihero (named “Hero,” since Christopher Nolan had dibs on “Protagonist”) may be performed by none aside from Cage. That is trigger for celebration in some corners — like the one the place Sundance programmers have been gifted a Sono joint for his or her pandemic-afflicted 2021 Premieres part — and dissociation in others, since Cage’s how-gonzo-can-you-go limbo bar has now crossed over right into a parallel dimension (the place this questionable “Nationwide Treasure” will quickly be enjoying “Tiger King” Joe Unique).
For these nonetheless on the fence, the excellent news right here is that even when so clearly bored, Cage is rarely boring. Meaning despite the fact that this script — credited to Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai — seems to have been written with the specific intent of being absurd, the worse it’s, the extra enjoyable Cage can have with it. As when Sono fits him up in a black leather-based union swimsuit with exploding sensors positioned at his neck, elbows and crotch. One fallacious transfer, and tiny bombs will train him a lesson.
“They are saying you’re a veritable illusion,” drawls the Governor (Invoice Moseley as a white-hat dangerous man), addressing Hero after he’s been paraded via the streets in a buns-baring fundoshi. This scene is ready on a postmodern Gion-meets-Previous-West backlot set recognized as Samurai City (although there’s no proof that every other Cities exist on this planet), the place Village Individuals cowboys cluster beneath neon indicators and geisha gawk at the dimension of Hero’s gyro.
Past the metropolis limits lies “the Ghostland,” a “Mad Max”-like dirt-scape the Governor describes as “a stretch of freeway the place evil reigns,” whereas his loose-cannon granddaughter (Yuzuka Nakaya) stands there screaming about her lacking sister Bernice (Sofia Boutella). It’s all meant to be outrageous, but it surely’s extra exhausting than something, as the Governor explains the deal by which Hero — who’d been imprisoned for years after a financial institution theft went fallacious — can earn his freedom: Retrieve Bernice, who’s been kidnapped and decoupaged with bits of model pores and skin, with out abusing her. Ought to he attempt to slap her, the swimsuit is programmed to blow off one of his elbows. Suppose impure ideas, and he can say goodbye to his testicles.
Three days later, in what’s meant to be a rallying cry, Hero bellows, “In the event you’d informed me three days in the past I’d be standing right here with one arm and one tesssticallll attempting to cause with you bitches, I’d have mentioned ‘Unattainable’ too!” It’s not Shakespeare (that will be the tossed-off “Alas, poor Yorick” line), but it surely’s the form of dialogue that Cage maniacs have come to anticipate from the actor. In the meantime, the “bitches” to which he so refers are the “Ratman and his Rat clan,” plus a bunch of toga-clad modern-dance oddballs organized like extras from D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” earlier than an infinite clock, decided to cease time (which make’s Hero’s journey appear puny by comparability).
Don’t search for logic in Ghostland, however be at liberty to feast your eyes on every little thing else. Sono’s design sense has come a great distance since the degraded-video aesthetic of 2001’s “Suicide Membership.” Toshihiro Isomi’s too-busy (however admirably kooky) units suggests a Japanese spin on the type of recycled-future rubbish dumps present in Terry Gilliam motion pictures, the place rusty plumbing and jerry-rigged Christmas lights can remodel an deserted automotive park right into a touring circus.
Mix these visuals with Chieko Matsumoto’s costumes and a few fairly artistic facial make-up, and Sono has successfully assured that we’ll at all times have one thing fascinating to take a look at, whilst the mind struggles for which means. He even makes room for a musical quantity, set to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which is healthier executed than the climactic showdown, the place Bernice brings a gun to the swordfight and samurai Yasujiro (Tak Sakaguchi) can’t determine whose facet he’s on.
There was a time when Cage’s longtime followers half-wished the actor would take a hiatus. Nowadays, he makes 5 or six motion pictures a 12 months, evidently deciding on his roles for maximal eccentricity (hitting the jackpot with “Mandy,” which turned a midnight cult fave). In any case, higher this than the days of “The Climate Man” and “The Wicker Man.” Previous buddy Sean Penn as soon as mentioned of Cage, “He’s not an actor; he’s a performer,” and tasks like these are too self-consciously on the market to recommend in any other case.
Who’re such motion pictures for? Nicely, jaded movie critics and audiences so desensitized by components that something this far off the rails could be forgiven for stinking, as long as it surprises. One way or the other, it doesn’t really appear stunning that Cage would associate with Sono. However the artistic selections they make collectively, from an exploding gumball machine to endangered testicles — properly, they should be seen to be believed.