Cyberpunk and Japan are a match made in heaven though, it has to be said, it’s often been much more an inherited influence in international pop culture than something which has originated directly in Japan. Yokna Hasegawa’s Dual City (デュアル・シティ) puts this to rights a little with a politically infused tale of Japan in 2034 – a nation divided and engaged in a wider information war with the little guy at the mercy of evil corporate giants.
The year is 2034, following a civil war Japan has been divided in two with a north/south border located at the feet of Mount Fuji. Our protagonist, Yoriko, is a nurse and mother working in the North sector which is definitely thought of as the least advantageous place to be. When her hospital is raided by guerrilla soldiers, Yoriko finds herself in the relatively lucky position of last survivor but is then charged with assisting this “resistance movement” by taking over from the soon to be dead insurgent, Gou, and completing his mission of carting a mysterious suitcase across the border.
Once in the south, we’re introduced to the rest of the band including the dynamic Ayumi who can’t seem to forgive Yoriko for the loss of Gou. The gang’s ultimate goal is to expose the shady Nephe corporation who, aside from their business interests of arms dealing and android production, have begun building a virtual world known as “information life” which is constructed through harvesting the memories of Northern corpses. Yoriko lost her daughter to terrorist aggression and the idea that she might be able to see her again, albeit in virtual form, is one which she is unable to pass up.
Adding to the intrigue is the love story between a resistance member and an android which may or may not come to be a liability and the hacker group’s involvement with the steady stream of illegal migrants somehow making the dangerous cross border journey into the relative safe haven of the South. Many of these people have injuries or ailments that would be best served by a doctor, but having no proper papers they can’t risk a hospital and so the care that Yoriko can provide becomes another useful asset for the group.
Drawing parallels with other “divided” nations, Dual City looks at a multitude of contemporary social and philosophical problems from dealing with refugees fleeing an oppressive regime to the power of multinational corporations and the eternal quality of a mother’s love. Nephe (represented in a futuristic ad campaign starring Third Window Films’ Adam Torel as its heinous CEO) commits the very worst kind of identity theft as it steals and repurposes the very soul of those that it has killed by sucking out their memories and using them to create artificial counterparts in their online world. Are these ghosts in the machine any less “real” than their flesh counterparts were? A standard question of the cyberpunk world and one which still has no clear answer, but Dual City continues to explore it in a mature and nuanced manner.
Though an undoubtedly low budget, indie movie Dual City makes a decent job of creating its realistically grimy cyberpunk world with its interactive video screens and invisible techno warfare. Special effects, though sparse, are effectively achieved and never call attention to themselves. Dual City is actually the second part of a projected trilogy with the overarching title of Japan Year Zero (following the 2014 short Illuminations) but is perfectly intelligible even without knowledge of the previous film and manages to create a sense of a bleak, oppressive society which travels along with Yoriko from the totalitarian North to the supposedly freer South. Eventually Yoriko’s love for her daughter transforms and becomes something larger, an eternal and infinite love for all mankind that represents our last, best hope for peace. It only remains to be seen if the troubled society of 2034 can can learn to follow a similar road.
Reviewed as part of the SCI-FI London Film Festival 2016.
On a side note, Illuminations seems to be the film Hoshi Ishida was talking about when I interviewed him (for UK Anime Network) a couple of years ago. Small world! I would like to see the movie but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, maybe one day. Here is a trailer for Illuminations: