Action film costars Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, and Bill Moseley.

Japanese director Sion Sono insists that his first English language film, the Nicolas Cage-starring Prisoners of the Ghostland, is a "very classic" story. "It's a movie about a hero," says Sono of the film, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 31. "It's really simple. However, the details are quite fantastic and quite different."

No kidding. Cage plays a bank robber who is freed from jail by Bill Moseley's wealthy warlord The Governor so that he can try and locate the latter's missing adopted granddaughter Bernice, played by Kingsman actress Sofia Boutella. "The character lost her mother when she was a child and she was adopted by the Governor," says Sono. "The Governor got the Hero out of the prison, and he's supposed to go and save the governor's granddaughter. If his mission is completed, he's supposed to be free, and he can walk away." The catch for Cage's character? He is strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct after five days unless he returns with Bernice. Also: "There are samurais, there are ninjas, and ghosts are part of the story as well," says Sono.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
Credit: XYZ Films

The cast boasts a Face/Off reunion thanks to the presence of Nick Cassavetes, who played an associate of Cage's villainous Castor Troy in John Woo's 1997 body-swap action movie. "Nick Cassavetes' character used to be a partner with the hero for things like bank robberies," says Sono. "They are notorious characters in the past. During one of the bank robberies, Nick Cassavetes' character got caught and the hero run away. So, the character has a feeling against the hero."

Sono originally intended on shooting Prisoners of the Ghostland in Mexico until health issues forced him change in plans. "I had a heart attack before we went into the shooting," says the director. "I was living in Tokyo and Nicolas Cage himself suggested, 'Why don't we shoot in Japan instead?' That gave a lot of essence to the east-meets-west stuff. That became quite different and super-interesting." Sono reveals that working with Cage placed no stress on his ticker during the shoot of the movie, which is written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai. "He is literally the easiest person to work with in the world, in my opinion," says the Sono. "He never acts like a star star at all. He tried everything he can to make this movie great for Sion. He did everything for Sion. I actually feel fantastic. Great. Just so you know, I text with Nicolas on a daily basis and we share this happiness that the movie is showing at Sundance."

Both Sono and Cage are known for their at times idiosyncratic choices when it comes to projects. The director's breakthrough film was 2008's Love Exposure, a four-hour comedy-drama about a teenager who takes "upskirt" photographs. Cage's upcoming films include February's Willy's Wonderland — about berserk animatronic animals — and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which the playing-himself actor is forced to reprise some of his iconic roles. Regardless, according to the Screen Anarchy website, Cage claimed in December that Prisoners of the Ghostland "might the wildest movie I've ever made, and that's saying something." Does Sion agree with the star's assessment? "That's a good question," says Sono. "I'd rather leave that question up to the audience. However, I know that Nicolas Cage has done a lot of great works and some of the works are crazy as well. If audiences think that this is the wildest movie that he's ever made, the craziest movie that he's ever made, then I would be really really happy to hear that."

Prisoners of the Ghostland costars Tak Sakaguchi and Yuzuka Nakaya. Exclusively see an image from the film above.

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