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Asian Migration and Global Cities

Anne Cong-Huyen, Jonathan Young Banfill, Katherine Herrera, Samantha Ching, Natalie Yip, Thania Lucero, Randy Mai, Candice Lau, Authors

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Blade Runner

I can’t remember the first time that I saw Blade Runner nor do I know how many times that I’ve viewed it. I’ve seen countless versions, the original with narration, the various Directors Cuts, and watched the anniversary DVD box set versions with hours of special features. I’ve seen it in the theater, on VHS, DVD, and now MP4 file. I’ve read the Philip K. Dick source novel and the not very good sci-fi paper back sequels. There is even a copy of the mid-1990s PC game floating around my parent’s basement. The Vangelis score still cycles through my music playlists. It has survived the changes of media and hasn’t lost any meaning or vision. It is one of those movies that invade one’s consciousness, causing all sorts of spaces, futures and possibilities to emerge. It is more than just the neo-noir plot, but instead a whole world of references that transcend beyond the film itself. Blade Runner is my central text for imagining and visualizing the future. It has inhabited this role, as I am sure it has with others, for a long time—decades now. It showed the “future” in a particular way, technological, but falling apart, dark and melancholy, neon and global, and a deep nostalgia, whether actual or virtual, for a world (with living animals, memories of green, and so on) that is now gone. And these things resonated outward from that first viewing, inscribing itself on the future that came from it. I could not have lived through the future that I have lived through without Blade Runner.

This happens from the first images. The murmuring organic/electronic hums and chimes. The skeletal world-setting introductory text in white. Followed by a boom in the soundtrack and the words: Los Angeles, November 2019. A “future “that is fast approaching (somewhere in the Tyrell corporation of 2014 Roy Batty is being made). Then there is the monstrous skyline. Skyscrapers and fire-breathing smokestacks. The flying spinners and lightning. Those swelling synths. It is still breathtaking; more magnificent and effective than any other Sci-Fi opening at wordlessly setting the place and world. The viewer understands the parameters of this place. It is nothing like the Los Angeles that we think we know, but it is also so very much Los Angeles. The camera slowly zooms in the Tyrell Corp pyramid. Batty’s eye intersects reflecting the night, and then we are in the interrogation scene. . .

There is so much more to discuss about this movie, as the film finds Decker on the neon and rain soaked street noodle stand, and follows him through his investigation. When I first saw Blade Runner being in such a place was a fantasy, beyond the edges of the present. Since then that world, the aesthetic it prophesized, has emerged within the global spaces and global cities where I have spent much of the 21st Century. Blade Runner predicted a Pacific future and articulated the gaps that this future might hold: The uneven space. The migratory dislocation. The left-behind-ness of those that can’t make it to “off-world colonies” (or at least the towering skyscrapers). The complete darkness of the sky, interrupted by a constant digital shine from thick walls of adverts. Beijing or Shanghai in my deepest dystopian visions embody something similar.

But what of the actual L.A. now, and how does this relate to Blade Runner? The future of the film is not the future of this city, at least not yet. The future of Her seems to be much closer to what actually may be, its own subtle dystopia. Still parts of the actual city’s connection to its future film counterpart jump out. One of the first places I went after I moved here was to Downtown, to try to catch some glimpses of those final scenes of the movie. In particular there is the Bradbury Building, which was used as J.F. Sebastian’s crumbling apartment. There are other remnants of “old” L.A. re-positioned into the future, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, which was used as Deckard’s apartment. . .

Quickly we are hitting the date of Blade Runner’s present. If I stick around at UCLA long enough I may be here in November of 2019, to imagine the alternate city spreading out before me, filled with replicants, Voight-Kampff tests, dream unicorns, glowing eyes, and Roy Batty’s tears.

-Jonathan Banfill
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