Everyone enjoys watching a film about the unpredictability of the future. A subgenre of science fiction that gives the audience a sense of curiosity is cyberpunk.
Cyberpunk focuses on a dystopian earth whose residents are computer hackers criminals or rebels who utilize cyberspace to their advantage. This sub-genre focuses on technologically advanced society before the internet was as successful. The creative invisions and unpredictability opened a new door for the film industry.
There are numerous subgenres of science fiction, each has different elements that make it unique. The elements of cyberpunk portrayed in the film Blade Runner influenced themes and concepts for famous science fiction movies. This sub-genre focuses on future societies that display advanced technological enhancement and radical social change. There is not one standard definition but to get a better understanding you can look at the term literally. The word cyber refers to technology. Punk is referred to a criminal, misunderstood, outsider. To categorize a film into a style of film it has to meet the qualifications. Since cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction it has to have additional elements than just science fiction.
It is common for a man and machine to merge together. There are 5 main elements seen in all cyberpunk films: dystopian earth, cyberspace, high tech low life, film noir, and large corporations. In multiple famous films that fall into this genre there is an additional focus on gender and Japanese culture. A Dystopian Earth is an imagined future of society where technology becomes an everyday necessity. Benjamin Kunkel describes a Dystopia as “the sinister perfection of order”(page 90).
Typically the film imagines a future that is destroyed because of the advancements of technology. The end of World War II shows the possibility of a holocaust and apocalypse, the fear of that was used in this film genre. The society being portrayed is undesirable and frightening. The rebuilding of a society seems hopeless and unobtainable. This is the complete opposite of a utopian society. A utopia has elements that citizens would desired which they would enjoy living in that perfect world. Dystopian does not worry or try to obtains a society based on the wellbeing of its citizens.
The common good of the citizens doesn’t matter, the private interest of the form of government is the main importance. Cyberspace was introduced as an element before the internet was as successful. Advance technology is seen in every cyberpunk film. William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer is seen to be the creation of this subgenre. Gibson defines cyberspace as: “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.
Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”(page 51)There is so much unpredictability when it comes to an online universe that not everyone is able to access.
A virtual world where there is no limits or boundaries allows for endless possibilities. Hackers experts who know how to explore the programs and softwares that are in cyberspace.Hackers are seen as outlaws who aren’t supposed to be able to access the confidential information.
High Tech, Low Life is an element that can be taken literally. Technology is the fundamental building blocks of this subgenre. The advance technology that appears in these films is ahead of its time. When the first cyberpunk films came out they imagined flying cars, unfortunately in 2017 we still sit in traffic on the road. Steven Connor believes cyberpunk “blends the evocation of extravagant technological possibilities with the most hard-bitten and unillusioned of narrative styles, borrowed from eh historical forms of the detective story and the film noir”(1997). The low life aspect of this element comes from the life quality in this imagined future. The future societies imagined and displayed are ran down and destroyed. Buildings are ruined and vacated by the residents who use to live in them.
The extensive uses of technology created oppressive societies and cities. The uses of advance technology leads to a direct decline of society. The people living in this situation and humanity as a whole are at risk of danger. The high tech is able to take memories then upload, download, and erase them from the residents of the low life societies. Film Noir is a cinematic style created by french movie critics after WWII, they noticed similar patterns used.
This style focuses on lightening, violence, and sound. There is a large representation of sexuality in these crime related films. These “dark-films” typically have a main character who is the protagonist is typically in law enforcement. The protagonist live a dark life trying to stop criminals. There is a femme fatale is typically a promiscuous women who needs the help of the protagonist. The villain is a dangerous, unpredictable character that will hurt anyone or anything in his or her way. The use of dark lighting, shadows, and loud sounds build the dramatic scene in this style of film.
Future noir, also known as tech-noir, is the combination of science fiction and and film noir. Janet Staiger says future noir is one “of the most immediate signifiers of the genre of science fiction is the representation of the known city in which readily distinguishable sections of today’s landscape are present while other parts are rewritten”(page 20). Future noir aspects displayed in Blade Runner was influential on other creators. Cognitive estrangement allows for the film to take normal concepts and push them out the window. Urban space that the audience is use to is part of the imagination of the future and is often dramatized. Large Corporations are an element included in all great cyberpunk films .
The oppressive powerful groups can be private corporations or they can be a form of government. Typically the government can be falling apart and powerless or the government can be powerful oppressors. When cyberpunk was becoming popular Reagan was the president of the United States. The Reagan administration made it possible for private corporations to gain more influence over society. Private corporations at this time had advanced technology which was an influence for this sub-genre.
This connects to the low life aspects seen in cyberpunk. Private corporations or the government have made irrational decisions with affect society and humanity. Japanese Culture has heavily influenced cyberpunk films. The fascination of Japanese culture relates back to the Cold War era. At this time Japan was going through a major cultural change and was seen as the next big economic superpower. This influenced created the term used in the film industry techno-orientalism. David Rog defines techno-orientalism as: “the phenomenon of imagining Asia and Asians in hypo-or hypertechnological terms in cultural productions and political discourse.
Techno-Orientalist imaginations are infused with the languages and codes of the technological and the futuristic. These developed alongside industrial advances in the West and have become part of the West’s project of securing dominance as architects of the future, a project that requires configurations of the East as the very technology with which to shape it.”(page 2)Japan has always been culturally embracing of technology and progress of future creations. Western views of otherness is part of what makes the future different. The inclusion of Japanese culture makes the unfamiliar of the future not strange.
This allows for the connection of thinking about the future, thinking about Japan. There are patterns seen in cyberpunk regarding characters gender. Influences of film noir are seen in the roles in cyberpunk. The main character, typically a male, is on a mission to fix a problem created by the large corporation. This character is traditional a police officer, detective, or another type of law enforcement. There goal is to gain control over the who is trying to lower the quality of life of society.
There is a powerful corporate executive or police chief the fixer has to report back too. Cyber hackers are the villains in these films, they are gaining access to cyberspace illegally. Artificial characters are created by the corporation and the fixer needs to identity them. The dynamic of these charters creates the traditional storyline for films in this sub-genre. We were introduced to the term cyberpunk towards the middle of this semester but we saw examples of it before. This unique sub-genre was a fundamental topic covered in this class regarding Blade Runner.
The ideas and themes in Blade Runner influenced other films that came after it. It created a legacy of elements used to create a story about crime and cyberspace. We have studied specific senes, camera movements, editing, style, and effect that are all recognizable in classic cyberpunk films. To create a successful cyberpunk film it needs to possess the key elements. Films that establish the meaning of this sub-genre are Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Sleep Dealer.
An another example of cyberpunk that we did not watch in this course is The Matrix. Elements such as dystopian earth, cyberspace, high tech low life, film noir, and large corporations are portrayed in these films. Additional factors what are displayed in these movies is Japanese influence and gender roles. These films utilize the elements of this genre to create a science fiction film. The inclusion of the elements listed allows for the film to bring the audience on a trip to a different world that can potential happen here. Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner released in 1982 begins the phenomenon of cyberpunk movies. This film influenced all cyberpunk films came after it.
The dystopian earth displayed in this film is a dark and depressing metropolis Los Angeles in 2019. Techno-orientalism is present in this film. Market vendors are Japanese, there is an Japanese influence with the billboards and the new language they speak. The Tyrell Corporation developed human replicants who were supposed to be used as slaves but because more human like. The male protagonist, Decker, job is to retire the replicants so they do not hurt anyone. Future noir is displayed through dark lightning, neon lights, and technology. There is a fascination with close up eye camera-shoots.
Deckard uses a photograph analyzer to zoom into a photo. This machine is an advanced piece of technological equipment for the time that the movie was made. Mamoru Oshii’s film Ghost in the Shell released in 1995 was influenced by the sub-genre cyberpunk that was portrayed in Blade Runner.
This thought provoking animated film brings more questions than answers. This Japanese animation main character is a cyborg policewomen questions if there is a difference between human and machine. The dystopian is based in a future city where most of the populations body parts are replaced by robotics. They are able to access information from cyberspace by plugging themselves in. The main character does not care about her nudity, on the outside she looks like a human but the inside she is all robotic. High tech is displayed when the puppet master wants to merge his conciseness with hers. She questions if there is a difference between human and machine. The futuristic Hong Kong which was displayed in this film is similar to the futuristic city of Los Angeles in Blade Runner.
Alex Rivera’s film Sleep Dealer released in 2008 was another film influenced by the sub-genre cyberpunk. This dystopian future of Mexico is a militarized world where the borders are closed. The high tech of cybernetic implants is capable of joining minds and experiences of residents.
The government and military forces have total control of the residents. Telepresence networks are able to use consciousness to control the arms and legs of a robot worker who is on a construction site in the United States. The “nodes” that are attach to the human body to allow humans to connect themselves to each other. The residents of Mexico experience the low life because they are the ones creating a better United States but they are never allowed to see it themselves. The uses of a realistic settings and minimal special effects to help the creation of the low budget cyberpunk film. The Wachowski’s film The Matrix released in 1999 was influenced by was influenced by the sub-genre cyberpunk seen in Blade Runner. In this dystopian intelligent machines are taking over and are using human electricity as there power source. The humans are unaware because they are in the matrix.
The main character, Neo, is a expert hacker who lives alone and has a problem with authority. Neo is the only person who can destroy the matrix and save the human race. Computers are able to take human form, these “agents” try to find Neo and stop him from saving the enslaved humans.
The special effects used in the cyberspace world were advanced for their time. Japanese culture is influenced in the famous Kung Fu sequences fights throughout the film. This unique sub-genre is a fundamental topic covered in this class regarding Blade Runner. The ideas and themes in Blade Runner influenced other films that came after it.
It created a legacy of elements used to create a story about crime and cyberspace. The focus of a dystopian earth with residents who are computer hackers criminals or rebels who utilize cyberspace to their advantage is relative in these films. Near future that focuses on technology in society and the social issues that come with it. Advance technology leads to a drastic and negative change to the world’s social order. The future societies portray advanced technological elements and radical social change compared to the world the audience is living in. This sub-genre focuses on future societies that display advanced technological enhancement and radical social change. Elements portrayed in cyberpunk are an dystopian earth, cyberspace, high tech, film noir, and large corporations.
There is also a large focus of gender roles and Japanese culture. The elements are being borrowed and influenced by Blade Runner are seen in the other film we have seen in class. A film does not need to use all the elements to make it a cyberpunk film.
The pattern of elements was notice by themes and concepts that were used in other films to create a cyberspace. Significant uses of technology that are portrayed in these films connects them to cyberpunk. It is interesting to compare these films to society today, Blade Runner was predicting Los Angeles in 2019. Although it is only 2017 I do not expect a drastic change in society that will represent a dystopian like Blade Runner. The cyberpunk elements portrayed in the film Blade Runner influenced themes and concepts in numerous famous science fiction movies made after it.