Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time, which is why I jumped at the chance to write a blog post about it for class. To give a brief summary for those who haven’t seen the movie (feel free to skip this if you’ve seen it), it is the story of Rick Deckard, a cop who specializes in eliminating Replicants, or artificially created humans, off the streets. He is allowed to use any means necessary to do so, since they are not considered human. After harming one of the police agency’s current top detectives, Deckard comes out of retirement to eliminate a group of Nexus 6 models once and for all.
The story takes place in dystopian Los Angeles during the year 2021. A nuclear winter has completely destroyed the planet, and most humans have moved off-world. The ones left behind are either not fit enough to make the journey or can’t scrounge up the money to move. Replicants are only used as the first colonists to get planets ready for habitation, and are not allowed on Earth because of their volatile behavior. Additionally, these Replicants have a built-in lifespan, usually lasting only about 4 or 5 years. This is because they start to form personalities and emotions around that time, becoming aware of their miserable living conditions.
The story itself is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This narrative also follows a detective named Rick Deckard who takes out a group of Replicants on the loose in a dystopian Earth setting. There are a few major changes between the book and movie, such as the elimination of the religion Mercerism and the swapping out of some Replicants for different ones in the movie. However, in my opinion Blade Runner is one of those rare movies that captures the themes of the book perfectly without making the viewer feel like they’ve lost an integral part of the story. I might also be biased, since I saw the movie before reading the book when I was growing up, but considering the praise this movie gets, I would say otherwise.
One major theme the movie perfectly captures from the book is the theme of isolation in the modern world. Despite living in a sprawling metropolis, Deckard is seen as a lone wolf with no friends, family, or even close work colleagues. He lives alone in an apartment, has no wife or children, and most of his life is consumed by work. Even the side characters, such as J.F. Sebastian, live similarly grim and lonely lives. This reflects many concerns of 20th century authors who believed that city life and technology created lonely people surrounded by millions of similarly lonely people. Sometimes city folk were portrayed as shallow socialites with all acquaintances and no friends, while in most instances they were lonely single men and women who lived in small, cramped apartments with their only connections to the outside world being their jobs and technology, usually in the form of television or computers. This is a really common trope used in all sorts of science fiction, and has been used in everything from classic Lovecraft stories to recent seasons of Black Mirror.
However, now that most people are connected to the Internet at all times and live in cities, society has seen a major change since the publication of the original novel and the release of the 1982 movie. In fact, many of these concerns about society have become major issues in countries such as Japan. Due to a heavy focus on work and success, many Japanese men and women are choosing not to marry and instead dedicate their few hours of free time to their personal lives. Recently, a poll showed that approximately 70% of Japanese citizens from the Millennial generation are virgins, let alone married.
So what are they doing in their free time? It really depends from person to person. Many just watch TV or read, while others participate in various subcultures, such as anime and videogames. Current estimates reveal that about half a million Japanese youth have become hikikomori (ひきこもり), or the Japanese version of a recluse, and that 1.5 million will soon follow. A hikikomori means that a person will exclusively go to work, do their chores, then dedicate the rest of their time to hobbies. Some of them have lived since the early 1990’s in complete isolation, having little to no contact with anyone besides coworkers or family. Another term governments use to keep track of modern-day hermits is NEET, or Not in Education, Employment, or Training. According to the Japanese government, these are 15-34 year olds who either live off of parents’ money or government welfare. This began as a problem in the UK during the latter half of he 20th century, and other countries have recently seen a steady rise in their own numbers.
What is interesting about modern-day portrayals of isolation in the media is their striking similarity to predictions in science-fiction like Blade Runner. For example, Japanese media commonly portrays hikikomori as main protagonists in anime and manga, a subculture notorious in Japan for containing many hermits. Anime such as Sword Art Online, No Game No Life, and Stein’s Gate even embrace this lifestyle while inserting fantasy elements to appeal to their audience. On the other hand, there has been just as much criticism within the community itself regarding the practice such as in the animated short ME!ME!ME! The short is NOT INTENDED FOR AUDIENCES UNDER 18, and is about a man whose girlfriend has recently broken up with him due to his obsession with fictional women and escapist tendencies regarding anime and videogames. The sad part is that all of these portrayals are not meant to be fictional, despite taking place in a fictional world. They’re all meant to reflect the everyday lives of many people who live in the 21st century.
So what does this all mean? Are we slowly moving toward the lonely reality portrayed in Blade Runner, or is it just the Japanese being weird again? Who knows, but it is a growing problem in many 1st world countries.