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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)
MDP Worldwide (International)
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.

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 driven by a virtual Internet, which has created a degenerate effect called "nerve attenuation syndrome" or NAS. Megacorporations control much of the world, intensifying the class hostility already created by NAS.

Johnny is a "mnemonic courier" who discreetly transports sensitive data for corporations in a storage device implanted in his brain at the cost of his childhood memories. His current job is for a group of scientists in Beijing. Johnny initially balks when he learns the data exceeds his memory capacity even with compression, but agrees given the large fee will be enough to cover the cost of the operation to remove the device. Johnny warns that he must have the data extracted within a few days or suffer psychological damage. The scientists encrypt the data with three random images from a television feed and start sending these images to the receiver in Newark, New Jersey, but they are attacked and killed by the Yakuza led by Shinji (Akiyama) before the images can be fully transmitted. Johnny escapes with a portion of the images. As he flees Beijing, Johnny is pursued by both the Yakuza as well as security forces for Pharmakom, one of the mega-corporations run by Takahashi (Kitano), both seeking the data he carries. Johnny starts witnessing brief images of a female projection of an artificial intelligence (AI) who attempts to aid Johnny, but he dismisses her.

In Newark, Johnny meets with his handler Ralfi (Kier) to explain the situation, but finds Ralfi is also working with the Yakuza and wants to kill Johnny to get the storage device. Johnny is rescued by Jane (Meyer), a cybernetically-enhanced bodyguard, and members of anti-establishment Lo-Teks and their leader J-Bone (Ice-T). Jane takes Johnny to a clinic run by Spider (Rollins), who had installed Jane's implants. Spider reveals he was intended to receive the Beijing scientists' data, which is the cure for NAS stolen from Pharmakom; Spider claims Pharmakom refuses to release the cure as they are profiting off the mitigation of NAS. Unfortunately, even with the portion of the encryption images Johnny took and what Spider had received is not sufficient to decrypt Johnny's mind, and Spider suggests that they see Jones at the Lo-Teks' base. Just then, Karl "The Street Preacher" (Lundgren), an assassin hired by Takahashi, attacks the clinic, killing Spider as Johnny and Jane escape.

The two reach the Lo-Tek base and learn from J-Bone that Jones is a dolphin once used by the Navy which can help decrypt the data in Johnny's mind. Just as they start the procedure, Shinji and the Yakuza, Takahashi and his security forces, and the Street Preacher all attack the base, but Johnny, Jane, J-Bone and the other Lo-Teks are able to defeat all three forces. Takahashi turns over a portion of the encryption key before he dies, but this still is not enough to fully decrypt the data, and J-Bone tells Johnny that he will need to hack his own mind with Jones' help. The second attempt starts, and aided by the female AI, Johnny is able to decrypt the data and at the same time recover his childhood memories. The AI is revealed to be the virtual version of Johnny's mother who was also the founder of Pharmakom, angered at the company holding back the cure. As J-Bone transmits the NAS cure information across the Internet, Johnny and Jane watch from afar as the Pharmakom headquarters goes up in flames from the public outcry.



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 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, the first official site launched by Columbia TriStar Interactive,[11] 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 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 37 critics. The website's consensus reads, "As narratively misguided as it is woefully miscast, Johnny Mnemonic brings the '90s cyberpunk thriller to inane new whoas -- er, lows."[12]

The film grossed 73.6 million Yen ($897,000) in its first 3 days in Japan from 14 screens in the nine key Japanese cities.[13] It was released in the United States and Canada on May 26, 1995 in 2,030 theaters, grossing $6,033,850 in the opening weekend. It was a financial disappointment in the USA, grossing $19,075,720 in total in the United States and Canada. However, the film was much more successful worldwide, grossing $52,400,000 in total against its $26m budget.[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.[14] 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. 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. ^ Graser, Marc (January 25, 1999). "Col caught in Web". Variety (Columbia Pictures 75th Anniversary ed.). p. 76.
  12. ^ "Johnny Mnemonic Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes (Flixster). Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  13. ^ Groves, Don (April 24, 1995). "'Mnemonic' bows big in Japan". Variety. p. 12.
  14. ^

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