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Johnny Mnemonic is a 1995 cyberpunk film, loosely based on the short story "Johnny Mnemonic" by William Gibson. The title character, a man with a cybernetic brain implant designed to store information, is played by Keanu Reeves. The film portrays Gibson's dystopian view of the future with the world dominated by megacorporations and with strong East Asian influences. The film has garnered a cult following over the years for its dystopian and cyberpunk themes.

The film was directed by Robert Longo on location in Canada, with Toronto and Montreal filling in for the film's Newark, New Jersey and Beijing settings. A number of local monuments, including Toronto's Union Station and Montreal's skyline and Jacques Cartier Bridge, feature prominently.

The film was premiered in Japan first on April 15, 1995, with a longer version (103 mins) that is closer to the director's cut and features a previously composed score by Michael Danna, different editing, and more scenes with Japanese star Takeshi Kitano and Dolph Lundgren notably.[1]


In 2021, Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is a "mnemonic courier" with a data storage device implanted in his brain, allowing him to discretely 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 these; his handler, Ralfi (Udo Kier) assigns him one more job that would cover the costs of the operation, sending Johnny to Beijing. As the designated place, he finds a group of frantic scientists who have the data he is to carry, but it far exceeds Johnny's storage capacity, even with the use of compression. Johnny accepts the job anyway, well aware of psychological damage and potentially death should he not be able to remove the data in time. After downloading their data, the group is attacked by Yakuza, but Johnny manages to escape with a portion of the encyption password and the name of a doctor in Newark, New Jersey, the designated receiver.

Johnny returns to Newark and soon finds that two groups are after the data he carries. One are agents of the international pharmacological company, PharmaCon, led by its United States executive, Takahashi (Takeshi Kitano), believing the data to be critical to the company's interests. The other is the Yazuka guided by Shinji (Denis Akayama), who wishes to deny this information to Takahashi and claim it for themselves; Johnny soon learns that Ralfi is in the Yazuka's employ. Johnny is soon aided by a cybernetically-enhanced bodyguard, Jane (Dina Meyer), and the Lo-Teks, an anti-establishment group led by J-Bone (Ice-T), and evades capture by both groups. Jane takes Johnny to meet her friend and street doctor Spider (Henry Rollins) who had installed Jane's implants. In discussions, Spider reveals he and his allies at a local clinic were to be the recipients of Johnny's data, supposedly PharmaCon's unpublished cure for "nerve attenuation syndrome" (NAS), a plague ravaging mankind due to the over-reliance on technology and causing politic strife. Though Spider could remove Johnny's implant, this may cause both the loss of this invaluable data as well as Johnny's life; instead, Spider directs Johnny to "Jones" that resides at Heaven, the Lo-Tek base built on the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge. The clinic is soon invaded by the assassin Karl, the Street Preacher (Dolph Lundgren), hired by Takahashi to retrieve Johnny's head before Shinji can; Spider is killed while Johnny and Jane escape.

At Heaven, they find that Jones is a dolphin, once part of the Navy for his decryption capabilities. Jones attempts to discover the remainder of the password 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 Takahashi, Shinji, the Street Preacher, and their agents. Takahashi, in a dying gesture, provides Johnny with a portion of the remaining password to the data. 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 from PharmaCon's mainframe, providing the last portion of the password. The data for the NAS cure is safely recovered, and Johnny discovers he can now recall his memories of his youth, including his mother. As Johnny recovers from the process, he, Jane, and the Lo-Teks observe the PharmaCon building under fire, a sign that the cure's transmission was successful.


Longo and Gibson originally envisaged 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."[2] 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.[3] Prior to its release, the film had been hailed by critic Amy Harmon as an epochal moment when cyberpunk counterculture would enter the mainstream.[3]

Differences from the source material[]

The story in the movie significantly deviates from the short story, most notably turning Johnny, not his girlfriend, into the primary action figure. In fact, the movie transforms this girlfriend from Molly Millions into "Jane", as the film rights to Molly were owned by a company unaffiliated with the film's producers.[4] The character Chrome appears in the film as an AI who confers with zaibatsu antagonist Takahashi, but is transformed from her original security challenge-response program nature in Gibson's short story to a conscience figure.

Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (NAS) is a fictional disease in the film, which is not present in the short story. NAS, also called "the black shakes", is caused by an overexposure to electromagnetic radiation from omnipresent technological devices, and is presented as a raging epidemic affecting the world in the future. The plot of the film revolves around the one pharmaceutical corporation that has found a cure but chooses to withhold it from the public in favor of a more lucrative treatment program. The code-cracking Navy dolphin Jones's reliance on heroin was one of many scenes cut during an editing process.[3]

Basically what happened was it was taken away and re-cut by the American distributor in the last month of its prerelease life, and it went from being a very funny, very alternative piece of work to being something that had been very unsuccessfully chopped and cut into something more mainstream.

—William Gibson, in interview with The Peak magazine, 19 October, 1998[5]

News of the compromises of the script spurred pre-release concerns that the film would prove a disappointment to hardcore cyberpunks,[3] a fear which was ultimately borne out by the film's reception.

Japanese release[]

The film was released in Japan first, in a version closer to the director's vision.

The Japanese soundtrack was composed by Mychael Danna but re-composed by Brad Fiedel for the international version. It also contains tracks from independent industrial band Black Rain who had initially recorded a score for Robert Longo that had been rejected.

There are three extended scenes revolving around the character of Takahashi, as the actor portraying this character, Takeshi Kitano, is a popular entertainer/director/actor in Japan. These scenes include: Takahashi sitting in what appears to be his late daughter's room, watching a 3D hologram of his daughter playing; Takahashi watching a videotape of his daughter while self-medicating, and Takahashi killing two of Shinji's henchmen as punishment for bringing them under his command without permission.

A number of other differences exist in the Japanese version. There is no "laser" effect added to the opening text, which is plain, white and scrolling. The scene near the beginning with the protesters is longer, with extensive crane shots and the voice of a news anchor in the background. There is a scene added in the Beijing Hotel where Johnny obtains the "memory doubler" from a dealer who informs him that he was unable to get an upgrade as advanced as was originally agreed upon. In the scene in the men's restroom at the club where Ralphie (Udo Kier) yells at his bodyguard for hitting Johnny on the head, the bodyguard states that it had been a long time since she was in this room. In the book, the Dog Sisters (bodyguards) are muscle grafted creations, and are lovers, one of whom was originally a man. Jane refers to her grenade as a "bottle opener" on two different occasions instead of the US dialogue that refers to it simply as a grenade. The Street Preacher (also known as Karl Honig and played by Dolph Lundgren) character has an added scene where he is addressing his followers where he claims to have been "stricken by the sickness that devours the silver pathways of the soul," and has been healed by the Lord making him "post-human." He then notices Takahashi's henchmen arriving with a cryogenic container (for Johnny's head) and tells his followers that he must now leave to meditate. Throughout the movie, his character has a few extra lines that are shouted out during action scenes.

There are minor additions (usually less than a second or two in length) throughout the film. The scenes where the troops storm the bridge near have been edited resulting in a slightly different order of events. The final "hack your own brain" sequence has also been similarly edited with the inclusion of altered dialogue.[1]

Transmedia presence and promotion[]

I've never been comfortable with the marketing of my art ... but the nature of commodification sometimes requires my presence. In this case, I thought that the gentlemanly thing to do was to oblige them and go on-line. With the treasure hunt, it seemed to me that that is Sony trying to explore the landscape. It's not the users exploring cyberspace, it's Sony saying, 'Is this what we can do?' So I thought it was kind of cute.

Screenwriter William Gibson as quoted by the Los Angeles Times[3]

Johnny Mnemonic was touted with pride by Sony as a film project of unparalleled corporate synergy. Simultaneous with Sony Pictures's release of the film, its soundtrack was released by Sony subsidiary Columbia Records, while the corporation's digital effects division Sony ImageWorks issued a CD-ROM videogame version for DOS, Mac and Windows 3.x.[3] The Johnny Mnemonic videogame, which was developed by CineACTIVE and directed by Douglas Gayeton, offered an innovative interface and 90 minutes of full motion video storytelling and puzzles.[6][7] A Mega-CD/Sega CD version of the game was also developed, but never released despite being fully completed. This version was eventually leaked on the Internet many years later. A pinball machine based on the film designed by George Gomez was released in August 1995 by Williams.

Sony realised early on the potential for the reaching their target demographic through Internet marketing, and its new-technology division promoted the film with an online scavenger hunt offering $20,000 in prizes. One executive was quoted as remarking "We see the Internet as turbo-charged word-of-mouth. Instead of one person telling another person something good is happening, it's one person telling millions!".[3] The film's website facilitated further cross-promotion by selling Sony Signatures-issued Johnny Mnemonic merchandise such as a "hack your own brain" t-shirt and Pharmakom coffee cups. Screenwriter William Gibson was deployed to field questions about the videogame from fans online. The habitually reclusive novelist, who despite creating in cyberspace one of the core metaphors for the internet age had never personally been on the Internet, likened the experience to "taking a shower with a raincoat on" and "trying to do philosophy in Morse code."[3]


Critical response was negative overall.[8] The film was a financial disappointment, grossing $19,075,720 in the domestic American market against its $26m budget. It was released in the United States on May 26, 1995 to 2,030 theaters, grossing $6,033,850 in the opening weekend.[9]


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External links[]

The corresponding Wikipedia article was the original source for this article.