When you’re locked down, the perfect late night genre to find solace in is Science Fiction’s dazzling young son, Cyberpunk.
In it, you will find dystopic futures where cybernetic, mutagenic, nightmarish low-lifes with high-tech fantasies are enthralled in the oncoming breakdown of a city’s social order.
The heroes are either cops or crims and usually possess or are in search of the key to unknowingly unlocking a more dangerous and promising chapter for the world around them.
Cyberpunk can be Film Noir with technology (Tech Noir), a police procedral with cyberised mecha or a crime drama with pretty much everything sci-fi.
To help you dive into the cyberpunk experience, I present to you this list:
BLADE RUNNER [Director’s Cut]
The originator and pioneer of the genre in film, the granddaddy of scifi cinema and one of the best Film Noirs of all time. It’s about a bounty hunter tasked to retire some androids, and it asks who is more human, man or machine.
It comes in three cuts that you might happen upon: the Director’s Cut, the Theatrical Cut and the Final Cut. Always go for the Director’s Cut before the Final Cut and never the Theatrical Cut.
The TC has a Film Noir style voice over from Harrison Ford and a cliche ending, which were added to keep the studio happy, ultimately squandering the director’s original vision and movie experience. The DC removed the voice over, added in a key scene to do with a unicorn and made the ending timeless. The FC is the same as the DC but has a green hue to it and added gore; it was developed shortly after The Matrix, and was largely seen as a cash grab. The DC offers the ultimate experience.
The sequel, which you’ve probably seen floating around Netflix, I’d strongly argue against it being cyberpunk or a sequel to a Film Noir flick, it’s more this simulacra story that breaks the more you think about it. But if you want to check it out, feel free, it ain’t a bad three hours.
WHERE TO DIVE IN: Any good streaming service. (What you’ve never seen it? Shame on you.)
The godfather of Japanese cyberpunk and the movie that influenced the genre and science fiction for more than twenty years and probably more to come. For a long time, AKIRA was voted the greatest anime ever. If you’ve seen the animation that makes up the story, you’ll understand why.
Now, the story may seem like it overpacks itself, falling short of greatness, and that’s because it’s based on a quarter of the original story found in the manga – which is superior. But the experience of watching this psychological brain sucker is one not to miss out on.
There are two English versions worth watching, the 1988 dub, which is a little corny but some of the dialogue is better, and the 2001 dub, which allows the story to breathe for posterity’s sake.
WHERE TO DIVE IN: Streaming services, maybe. Seek and ye shall find, netdiver. I got it on bluray.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 [the anime one]
Forget that Black Widow Ghost in the Shell mess you might have seen a couple years back, it’s a joke. The original GitS is a police procedral anime, released in 1995, about cyber cops hunting cyber terrorists and has a philosophical dissection of what happens when man and machine merge. The exposition is heavy and can make the film feel like a slog, but it’s worth the watch.
There are two versions 1.0, which is the original theatrical cut, and 2.0, which adds in extra CGI. Both versions are good. There’s also a sequel, which doubles down on the philosophy behind what reality is for a cyber-brain, which can have its memories hacked into or its reality looped. For the die hards.
WHERE TO DIVE IN: Rent it on Prime video.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex [seasons 1~2]
This is set in a different universe to the movies and is arguably better in everyway except for the animation. The story here breathes more life into all the characters and the more realist take on a dystopic world – utopic more like it. It does away with much of the philosophical underpinnings holding back the films and lets the cops catching the crims do most of the talking. Big fan.
WHERE TO DIVE IN: Anime streaming sites, either the paid or free ones.
Altered Carbon [seasons 1~2 and the anime]
Good ole Takeshi Kovacs and his crazy 300 year journey through a futuristic, Blade Runner-esque, Matrix-esque, pretty much all sci-fi-esque inspired star system.
AC uses a lot of tropes from science fiction to tell its story: cybernetic bodies, evil rich white guys, evil coporations, bounty hunters, punks, body modification, ninjas, samurai, yakuza, crazy guns, and so on. It’s a mish mash of everything in scifi that people love and the story of one rebel’s journey across multiple lifetimes that lead him toward well I don’t know, the seasons are still coming out, but it’s always to places bloody, dramatic and quirky. Each season plus the anime have a different actor playing the main character.
WHERE TO DIVE IN: Netflix.
Cyber City: Oedo 808
This hidden gem of Japanese cyberpunk is an early 90s classic. A three episode show about three criminals who are taken out of prison to hunt down fellow criminals for the cops. It’s like Suicide Squad but a thousand times better.
There are two versions, the US version, which has this terrible bubblehum J-pop soundtrack, and the UK version, which has this insanely good industrial tech-rock soundtrack. UK version only.
WHERE TO DIVE IN:
Episode 1: https://youtu.be/dwBXPsetOHM
Episode 2: https://youtu.be/vCSTGjmRHps
Episode 3: https://youtu.be/-NRb_7W0Ffc
There have been essays written on this movie. It’s a landmark in science fiction cinema and heavily influenced by the cyberpunk genre. Don’t bother with the sequels, the original is the only film you need. That said, I have spoken about what the sequels should have done here. Always a great watch.
WHERE TO DIVE IN: Stream it.
Johnny Mnemonic: Written by William Gibson, starring Keanu.
New Rose Hotel: Also written by Gibson, starring Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe.
Total Recall: One of the best science fiction movies of all time and an Arnie classic.
Batman Beyond: Superhero in a cyberpunk world. Very good animation.
Dominion Tank Police: https://www.youtube.com/user/StrikeArranges/playlists