The Sion Sono Starter Kit

The director behind Nic Cage’s “wildest” movie yet has been making crazy movies for a while.
Tokyo Tribe

Here’s some exciting news for fans of midnight cinema. The Hollywood Reporter recently revealed that Imogen Poots has joined Nicolas Cage in the post-apocalyptic actioner Prisoners of the Ghostland. In the movie, Cage plays a criminal who gets sent into a dark universe to rescue Poots’ character from the evil supernatural forces that lurk there.

As noted by Screen Anarchy, Cage believes that Prisoners of the Ghostland is the most bonkers movie that he’s ever agreed to star in. The actor is no stranger to taking a walk on the wild side when it comes to choosing his roles, so this will undoubtedly be pretty crazy.

“It’s out there. I wear a skintight black leather jumpsuit with grenades attached to different body parts, and if I don’t rescue the governor’s daughter from this state line where they’re all ghosts and bring her back they’re gonna blow me up.”

Of course, this is a Sion Sono movie, who’s responsible for some of the most outrageous genre movies out there. This might be Sono’s first American movie, but he doesn’t appear to be toning down his wacky sensibilities any time soon. With Cage also in the mix, expect an experience that’s nuttier than a squirrel’s lunch.

The movie was scheduled to begin filming this spring, but due to Sono’s recent heart attack (which he’s thankfully recovering from), plans may be delayed. With the director being in the news this month for both his next movie and his health scare, I figured now was the perfect time to celebrate Sono’s genius by sharing five of his best movies.

To reduce Sono’s work to a mere five films is, admittedly, doing him a disservice. He’s one of the most prolific directors on the planet, known for helming multiple films per year, most of which are wholly original and impressive. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with him, this selection will give you a basic understanding of what he’s all about. If you are already a fan, though, I’m sure you’ll agree that these movies are pretty special.

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (2013)

This is the most fun, accessible, and heartwarming yakuza flick you’re ever likely to see. That’s because once you get past all of the violence and mayhem, you’re left with an affectionate love letter to the magic of cinema. Why Don’t You Play In Hell? centers around a budding film crew who just want to make a movie. So, when they find two warring yakuza gangs who are willing to let their urban war be filmed because they’re going to kill each other anyway, the aspiring filmmakers’ dreams of making an action flick don’t seem so unattainable after all. Sword fights and splatter ensues, but Sono’s evident love of his craft is tangible in every frame and it makes for some inspirational viewing.

Suicide Club (2001)

It’s no secret that Japan’s suicide rate is relatively high compared to other countries. This was especially true during the 1990s and early 2000s, as the country was experiencing a period of economic stagnation known as the “Lost Decade.” Suicide Club is a disturbing and darkly comic response to the nation’s social problems at the time. The story revolves around a spate of mysterious suicides and the investigation into what’s causing them. Things get very surreal and weird afterward, and the strange behavior might be connected to a child pop group. The movie skewers everything from pop culture to the media, as nothing is safe from Sono’s satire.

Cold Fish (2010)

Sono is certainly fascinated with the more horrific real stories that make headlines. For Cold Fish, he loosely based the story on the real-life killers Sekine Gen and Hiroko Kazama, the husband and wife pet shop owners who killed and dismembered their customers. In the film, Sono changes the setting to a tropical fish store, as we follow an emasculated aquatic businessman who agrees to work for a sociopathic couple who are also in the fish business, as well as the killing one. This then sets off a chain of unpredictable events that are truly bleak. If you’re one of those many folks who can’t get enough of true crime and serial killer thrillers, Cold Fish is the movie for you.

Tag (2015)

Much like Suicide Club, Tag is another biting slice of social commentary that offers plenty of surreal moments, insane splatter, and some disturbing food for thought. After surviving one of the most grotesque massacres in the history of cinema, a schoolgirl is thrust into a patriarchal alternate reality where death and chaos reign supreme. To reveal more would spoil the surprises that Sono packs into the film’s running time. Imagine the most messed up version of Alice In Wonderland out there, with literal pig men and other horrific shenanigans. However, there’s a message to this madness: the film is very critical of society’s mistreatment and objectification of women. In that sense, Tag contains some chillingly uncomfortable truths.

Tokyo Tribe (2014)

Post-apocalyptic martial arts comedies are a rarity in cinema. If that’s all Tokyo Tribe was, it would still be a unique movie. But it’s also a rap-themed musical that features cannibalistic mobsters and street gangs who look like they belong in a Gucci Mane music video. The movie doesn’t make a lot of coherent sense at times, but it doesn’t have to. We’re here for the insanity and the tunes. Tokyo Tribe is a hoot that embraces its inherently silly premise by being as over-the-top and bewildering as possible. We need more musicals like it.

Kieran Fisher: Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.