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Johnny Mnemonic (film)

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Johnny Mnemonic
Johnny mnemonic ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Longo
Produced byDon Carmody
Screenplay byWilliam Gibson
Based onJohnny Mnemonic
by William Gibson
Music byBrad Fiedel
Mychael Danna (Japanese release)
CinematographyFrançois Protat
Edited byRonald Sanders
Distributed byTriStar Pictures (US)
Alliance Atlantis (Canada)
20th Century Fox (UK)
MDP Worldwide (Other Countries)
Release date
  • May 26, 1995 (1995-05-26)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
United States
Budget$26 million[2]
Box office$52.4 million (worldwide)[2]

Johnny Mnemonic is a 1995 Canadian-American 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 megacorporations and with strong East Asian influences. This was Dolph Lundgren's last theatrically released film until 2010's The Expendables.

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 (103 mins) that is closer to the director's cut, featuring a score by Mychael Danna and different editing.[3] The film was released in the United States on May 26, 1995.


In 2021, society is deeply engaged in a virtual Internet, which has a degenerative effect referred to as "nerve attenuation syndrome," or NAS. Another major issue is the takeover of society by large corporations, many of which are based in east Asia. In Japan, the Yakuza organized crime family acts as corporate enforcement. Their brutal tactics make the transmission of data to be a dangerous business.

Johnny (Reeves) 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 (Kier), assigns him one more job that would cover the costs of the operation (which is 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 (Kitano), hired the Yakuza to recover the data. However, the Yakuza, led by Shinji (Akiyama), want to take the data and claim it for themselves. Takahashi discovered this, and instead hired Karl, the Street Preacher (Lundgren), to recover Johnny's head. Johnny discovers Ralfi is in the Yakuza's employ, and is preparing to kill Johnny to recover the storage unit, but Johnny is rescued by Jane (Meyer), a cybernetically-enhanced bodyguard, along with help from the anti-establishment Lo-Teks and their leader J-Bone (Ice-T).

Jane takes Johnny to meet Spider (Rollins), the 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 NAS, which is ravaging mankind due to over-dependence on technology. Spider claims Pharmakon discovered the cure but refuses to publish it, instead 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 suggests he see Jones at the Lo-Tek base, Heaven. Karl follows Johnny to the clinic and kills Spider, but Johnny and Jane escape.

On a number of occasions, a mysterious female projection of artificial intelligence appears, and, at key points, the AI interacts with the head of a Japanese corporation whose daughter died from NAS and who hired the Yakuza to find Johnny and retrieve the data. The AI tries to guide Johnny, but he ultimately dismisses her.

At Heaven, they find Jones is a porpoise 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 the AI which, it is learned, 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 broadcast around the world. It is also revealed that the AI was the virtual version of the founder of Pharmakom and the mother of Johnny Mnemonic. Johnny discovers he can now recall his memories of his youth, including his mother and family. As he recovers from the process, he, Jane, and the Lo-Teks observe the Pharmakom building on fire, which was set by the public in response to Pharmakom withholding the cure.



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."[4] 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.[5] Prior to its release, the film had been hailed by critic Amy Harmon as an epochal moment when cyberpunk counterculture would enter the mainstream.[5]

Differences from the source material

The story in the movie significantly deviates from the short story, most notably turning Johnny, not his bodyguard partner, into the primary action figure. In fact, the movie transforms Molly Millions into "Jane", as the film rights to Molly were owned by a company unaffiliated with the film's producers.[6]

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.[5]

Basically what happened was it was taken away and re-cut by the American distributor in the last month of its pre-release 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[7]

News of the compromises of the script spurred pre-release concerns that the film would prove a disappointment to hardcore cyberpunks,[5] 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.[citation needed]

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 Ralfi (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 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.[3][8]


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[5]

Johnny Mnemonic was touted with pride by Sony as a film project of unparalleled corporate synergy. Simultaneous with Sony Pictures' 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.[5] The Johnny Mnemonic videogame, which was developed by Evolutionary Publishing, Inc. and directed by Douglas Gayeton, offered an innovative interface and 90 minutes of full motion video storytelling and puzzles.[9][10] 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 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!".[5] 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."[5]


Critical response was negative overall and it holds a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 29 critics.[11] The film was a financial disappointment in the USA, 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. However, the film was much more successful worldwide, grossing $52,400,000 in total.[2] Reeves's performance in the film earned him a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actor (also for A Walk in the Clouds), but lost to Pauly Shore for Jury Duty. The film was filed under the Founders Award (What Were They Thinking and Why?) at the 1995 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards and was also a dishonourable mention for Worst Picture.[12] Into the 21st century, the film continued to be referenced in pop culture. For instance, props from the film were transformed into sculptures by artist Dora Budor for their 2015 solo exhibition, Spring.


  1. ^ "JOHNNY MNEMONIC". British Board of Film Classification. October 30, 1995. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Johnny Mnemonic (1995)". Box Office Mojo (IMDb). Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Johnny Mnemonic Japanese release 1995, 103 minutes, Color, English/Japanese.
  4. ^ van Bakel, Rogier. "Remembering Johnny". Wired. Condé Nast Publications. 3 (6). Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Harmon, Amy (May 24, 1995). "Crossing Cyberpunk's Threshold: Hollywood: Author William Gibson's dark view of the future hits the mainstream this week in Johnny Mnemonic". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  6. ^ Dillard, Brian J. "Johnny Mnemonic > Review". Allmovie (All Media Guide). Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  7. ^ Lincoln, Ben (October 19, 1998). "Arts: Cyberpunk on screen - William Gibson speaks". The Peak. 100 (7). Archived from the original on June 27, 2007.
  8. ^ Johnny Mnemonic (Comparison: International Version - Japanese Extended Version) -
  9. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (June 2, 1995). "Johnny Mnemonic". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  10. ^ "Johnny Mnemonic for Macintosh (1995)". MobyGames. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  11. ^ "Johnny Mnemonic Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes (Flixster). Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  12. ^

External links