Blade Runner's vision of a thoroughly Japanified Los Angeles in the year 2019 reflects the western economic anxieties of the early 1980s. And while that once far-flung year may not have come quite yet, Japan — given the bursting of its postwar financial bubble and the "lost decade" of the 1990s that followed — looks unlikely to own a fraction as much of the United States as Ridley Scott's Philip K. Dick adaptation (and many other futuristic stories besides) assumed it eventually would. Still, the film's cultural prophesy came true: even during its economic stagnation, Japan exercised more "soft power" than ever before, turning the world to the unique claims of its culture, from the refinement of its cuisine to the hyperactive exuberance of its music and animation to the matchless elegance of its traditional aesthetics.
Even as Blade Runner showed us how much Japanese style would one day influence, the style of the film had, for its part, an immediate influence on Japan. Though famously unappreciated by westerners on its initial release ("a waste of time," said Siskel and Ebert), its proto-cyberpunk sensibility won the hearts of Japanese viewers, and Japanese creators, right away. The video at the top of the post collects three Japanese television commercials that both spoof and pay homage to Blade Runner: the first for the Honda Beat, a Japan-only roadster; the second (an astute parody of a particularly memorable scene) for Menicon contact lenses; and the third for mobile service provider J-Phone.
But the movie's effect on Japan didn't stop at the advertising industry. The 1987 animated series Bubblegum Crisis, which follows the adventures of a cyborg-battling team in the "Mega Tokyo" of 2032, plays so much like a homegrown Blade Runner that a fan could create the second video above: an animated recreation of Blade Runner's trailer, using all its original sound, with Bubblegum Crisis' footage. The 1988 video game Snatcher stars the decidedly Harrison-Fordian Gillian Seed, a detective in pursuit of the titular killer androids in the "Neo Kobe" of 2044. You can still see much of what the film inspired, and what inspired in the film, in major Japanese cities today. Even Los Angeles has made strides here and there toward the Blade Runner future, though I regret to admit that we still await our tower-side geisha.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.