Johnny Mnemonic is a 1995 cyberpunk action thriller film directed by Robert Longo in his directorial debut. The film stars Keanu Reeves and Dolph Lundgren. The film is based on the story of the same name by William Gibson. Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a man with a cybernetic brain implant designed to store information. The film portrays Gibson's dystopian view of the future with the world dominated by mega corporations.
The film was shot on location in Canada, with Toronto and Montreal filling in for the film's Newark and Beijing settings. A number of local sites, including Toronto's Union Station and Montreal's skyline and Jacques Cartier Bridge, feature prominently.
The film premiered in Japan on April 15, 1995, in a longer version that is closer to the director's cut, featuring a score by Mychael Danna and different editing. The Japanese soundtrack included music by Black Rain. Based on New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Black Rain fit in with the neighborhood chaos fostered by peers like Missing Foundation — taking an industrial sander onstage with them at squat parties, or playing Tompkins Square Park on the anniversary of its 1988 riot, phalanxed by angry cops and with a pile of scrap metal at the band’s feet, for the equally agitated audience members to wield as they wished. The film was released in the United States on May 26, 1995.
PLOT: In 2021, Johnny is a "mnemonic courier" with a data storage device implanted in his brain, allowing him to discreetly carry information too sensitive to transfer across the Net, the virtual-reality equivalent of the Internet. While lucrative, the implant has cost Johnny his childhood memories, and he seeks to have the implant removed to regain his memories; his handler, Ralfi assigns him one more job that would cover the costs of the operation (which are extremely expensive), sending Johnny to Beijing to collect the latest information. Johnny is told that the information exceeds his current memory capacity of 80 gigabytes, but he acquires a compression unit that effectively doubles the amount he can hold.
He meets with the client, a group of frantic scientists who tell him that they want him to carry 320 gigabytes of memory; Johnny accepts this, knowing that the overflow data will be uploaded directly into his brain which can cause psychological damage and death if not removed within a few days. Johnny uploads the data to his storage, with the scientists selecting three random images from a television screen to use as an encryption key. Just as the scientists are about to send the key to the data's receiver in Newark, New Jersey, they are massacred by Yakuza. Johnny manages to escape with a portion of the encryption key.
While returning to Newark, Johnny is pursued by Pharmakom, a global pharmacological company; its executive Takahashi hired the Yakuza to recover it. However, the Yakuza, led by Shinji, want to take the data and claim it for themselves. Takahashi discovered this, and instead hired Karl, the Street Preacher, to recover Johnny's head. Johnny finds Ralfi is in the Yakuza's employ, and prepares to kill Johnny to recover the storage unit, but Johnny is rescued by Jane, a cybernetically-enhanced bodyguard, along with help from the anti-establishment Lo-Teks and their leader J-Bone. Jane takes Johnny to meet Spider, a doctor who installed Jane's implants. Spider reveals he and his allies were the intended recipient of the data Johnny has, which they believe is the cure for "nerve attenuation syndrome" (NAS), a plague ravaging mankind due to over-dependence on technology.
Spider claims Pharmakon discovered the cure but refused to publish it, profiting on the costs of mitigating the effects of NAS. Without the full encryption key, Spider cannot recover the data, nor safely remove the implant without killing Johnny or destroying the data, and suggest he see Jones at the Lo-Tek base, Heaven. Karl follows Johnny to the clinic and kills Spider, but Johnny and Jane escape.
At Heaven, they find Jones is a dolphin once used by the Navy for his decryption capabilities. Jones attempts to discover the remainder of the encryption key to the data, but Heaven is soon attacked by the Yakuza, Takahashi's forces, and the Street Preacher. Johnny, Jane, and the Lo-Teks fight off all three groups and emerge victorious, killing Shinji, the Street Preacher, and their agents. Takahashi, who was shot in the crossfire, provides Johnny, in a dying gesture, with a portion of the remaining key. While this helps, Johnny is told by J-Bone that he must "hack his own brain" to find the final portion, unlocking the data so that the Lo-Teks can download it and transmit it across the globe.
Johnny and Jones again start the procedure but find themselves helped by a mysterious artificial intelligence that operates from Pharmakom's mainframe, providing the last portion of the password to unlock the data. The data for the NAS cure is safely recovered and Johnny discovers he can now recall his memories of his youth, including his mother and family. As Johnny recovers from the process, he, Jane, and the Lo-Teks observe the Pharmakom building on fire, a sign that the cure's transmission was successful.
Longo and Gibson originally envisioned making an art film on a small budget, but failed to get financing. Longo commented that the project "started out as an arty 1½-million-dollar movie, and it became a 30-million-dollar movie because we couldn't get a million and a half." The unbounded spread of the Internet in the early 1990s and the consequent rapid growth of high technology culture had made cyberpunk increasingly relevant, and this was a primary motivation for Sony Pictures's decision to fund the project in the tens of millions. Prior to its release, the film had been hailed by critic Amy Harmon as an epochal moment when cyberpunk counterculture would enter the mainstream.
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