It's hard to describe Prisoners of the Ghostland. It's a Western, but it's also a samurai movie, and it's a little Mad Max, with a heist thrown in. It's a strange film made stranger by the fact that Nicolas Cage plays the Hero, in one of his most bombastic roles so far.

He's an imprisoned bank robber tasked by a criminal Governor to find his adopted granddaughter, who fled beyond the safety of Samurai Town's walls and is now missing. The Hero is given an explosive suit to wear and just five days to find her.

It's a wild ride, filled with a cornucopia of diverse characters, some in kimonos and others in cowboy hats. The movie employs excellent worldbuilding, and you get the idea that you're just scratching the surface of the filmmakers' ideas.

Also, not to spoil anything, but I think this movie may birth the next big Cage meme. Let's just say he screams the word "TESTICLE" at the top of his lungs at one point. It's up there with "Not the bees!"

The film's Q&A included director Sion Sono, producer Laura Rister, cast members Bill Moseley and Sofia Boutella, and cowriter Reza Sixo Safai.

For those who don't know Sono's work

Sono is a prolific director who has been working since the 1980s, but as this was his first English-language film, Boutella and Moseley said they weren't familiar with the director at first, but they quickly checked out his filmography.

"It was mind-blowing to me, his ability to translate emotions and how strong his metaphors are," Boutella said.

Moseley had not seen Sono's movies before getting his role, but he recommended new viewers should check out Tag, Tokyo Tribe, Suicide Club, Exte: Hair Extensions, and Antiporno. He said his favorite is Cold Fish.

Reza brought the script to Rister, who then pursued Sono to direct. Rister said the challenges of the project and the idea of combining east and west in such a unique way attracted her to the project.

How was Japan's filmmaking culture different from that in the United States?

Prisoners of the Ghostland was originally set to be filmed outside of Japan, but when Sono suffered a heart attack, Cage suggested filming entirely in the director's home country.

Moseley said the Japanese crew "worked very intensely together" with an almost "spiritual" element that united the crew in a common purpose.

Safai said the Ghostland set was purified prior to shooting, and Boutella recalled that the shoot began with a blessing ceremony, which she said altered the energy of the project in a unique way.

50666589492_0c94f89968_bSion Sono, director of 'Prisoners of the Ghostland,' an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

What is the film actually about?

Much of the story concerns time, including the ticking clock of the main mission and the cursed residents of the Ghostland, suspended in their desert prison.

Sono said every character is fighting against time. Cage's character must find Boutella's character in mere days, Moseley's Governor is fighting his own passage of time and aging, and the prisoners of the Ghostland are haunted by a huge clock tower whose hands they constantly fight to stop moving.

Safai said there was a specific tie in the writing to the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan, and even said one of the cast members was a survivor of the war.

"There's this weight to it, and you see it with the struggle of the Ghostlanders trying to fight time," Safai said.

Safai also said that "time is the ultimate prison."

Boutella encouraged viewers to watch the film twice to fully understand its metaphors.

What's next for Sono?

Cage has called this the wildest movie he's been a part of.

For Sono's part, he said he doesn't think Prisoners of the Ghostland is too "out there" compared to his other films. He wants to create more movies for U.S. audiences, and he didn't want to scare them off.

He said he plans to amp up the weirdness in future films.

Can’t take part in this year’s festivities? Check out the rest of our 2021 Sundance Film Festival coverage here.