Blade Runner 2022: Blackout

As background explanation for important narrative points in Denis Villeneuve’s new film Blade Runner 2049, he commissioned two directors to create a number of short films. The first of these, chronologically, is set in 2022. Three years after the events of the first film. It is an anime short directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the acclaimed director whose works include anime classics with style and substance, beauty and brains like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. (Coincidentally my most viewed blog is about his work on Bebop)

The film begins with a figure walking through fire toward the viewer. He is holding something round in his hand. The shot segues into an animated reproduction of the opening sequence from the original Blade Runner. A sequence known affectionately by its creators as the Hades Landscape. The camera tracks out over a city in darkness and smog. Smokestacks emit fire and noxious gases into the atmosphere as a spinner zooms into frame from over the shoulder and rides into the vanishing point. We are told that Tyrell Corp. continued to run without its leader (or was the person killed by Roy Batty really only Tyrell’s clone after all?). It created a new line of replicants, The Nexus 8, with an extended lifespan.

We see avant-garde newsreel-like coverage of a new movement, the Human Supremacy movement, that began to seek out and destroy replicants using Tyrell’s public database. The scenes are kinetic and abstract. They use deep blacks and greys and depict the extra-judicial murder of a number of the replicants tracked down by the movement. I say extrajudicial here to mean beyond the law, as a mob might find and burn at the stake someone they didn’t like or thought to have committed some immoral act. However, I’m being judicious in the use of this term extrajudicial because although the replicants are like human beings in nearly all conceivable manners, barring their lack of ability to conceive, they are considered to be mere machines that probably lack human rights (hence why Blade Runners can kill them with impunity and even have the consent of the state).

There is a scene in the old LA police department of the first Blade Runner. Edward James Olmos reprises his character Gaff and remarks on the current situation. Some replicants escaped from the off-world planet of Kalantha. Their images scroll across the screen in the office, faces include Iggy, the protagonist of this short film, and Sapper Morton, Dave Bautista’s character from Blade Runner 2049.

In the city streets, Trixie, a replicant pleasure model, sits in an alleyway where she is being harassed by some human men. Iggy arrives, kills the men, and plays the character of rogue humanoid in a manner similar to Full Metal Alchemist’s Scar (staring at his hand and splattering the blood of his victims, and all).

Trixie’s backstory is as a pleasure model for a young man, Ren, who works at the city’s power generator and plays an integral role in setting off the explosion that destroys the generator and creates an EMP that will reset all digital records on the planet and wreak chaos. Trixie looks much like the android Armitage from the nineties cyberpunk OVA series of the same name. She fights like Pris from the first Blade Runner film. And when she is shot in the back and dying, she sees a dove flying across the rain-filled skies just as Roy Batty released one in the first film’s most elegiac scene.

Iggy worked on Kalantha as a combat unit. When he and his friends attempted to escape, he found out that not only was he a replicant, but the supervisors and managers of the operation who thought they were human, were also replicants. “Both sides were nexus, nothing more than toy soldiers in a sand box.” Now, back on earth, Iggy wants to not only destroy the replicant database to prevent people from discriminating on his brethren, but he also wants to give humans a taste of the fear that replicants must live with on a daily basis.

Complete with inspired experimental animation techniques and synth-chime music compliments of Flying Lotus but channeling Vangelis and Susumu Hirasawa, Blade Runner 2022 is one of the most atmospheric short films I’ve ever seen (especially at or below a fifteen minute length). It is an interesting homage to the original film that helps to transition into the new world of Blade Runner 2049. It deals with one of the core existential themes of the first film, what does it mean to be a manufactured human being as opposed to a born human being? And more than anything else, it problematizes the question of demarcation between the two types of humans by showing that all a replicant must do the erase the distinction is to remove their right eye (which has a serial number) and drop in to society unnoticed.

 

Cody Ward

(For more essays on Blade Runner 2049 click Cinematography or Set Design)

[Next up: Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn]

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