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These Nighttime Photos Of Tokyo Look Straight Out Of “Blade Runner”

Photographer Tom Blachford turns the Japanese capital into a cyberpunk metropolis.

It’s dark, but the city is illuminated by eerie neon light that makes it seem like the heavy buildings of a neverending skyline are glowing from within–just like an urban scene from Ridley Scott’s iconic 1982 film Blade Runner.

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In fact this is Tokyo in 2017, as seen through the lens of the Melbourne-based photographer Tom Blachford. Blachford, an architectural photographer who has previously shot midcentury modern homes in Palm Springs under the stars, spent six nights straight shooting the Japanese capital from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. for his new series Nihon Noir, which was sponsored by the beer company Asahi.

“I first visited Tokyo in 2013 on a trip with my father and was struck by an inexplicable feeling that I had somehow been transported into the future or to a parallel dimension,” Blachford tells Co.Design in an email. “Tokyo is arguably one of the best examples of a real-life cyberpunk metropolis.”

The series captures this ethos perfectly, particularly through Blachford’s focus on futuristic architecture, like the cylindrical Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Center or the daring Fuji TV headquarters, which resemble giant scaffolding–both by the architect Kenzo Tange.

The Tokyo Big Sight conference and exhibition center. [Photo: Tom Blachford]
Blachford says that he and his videographer Andrew Englisch are both fascinated with Blade Runner–particularly the visionary work of the film’s art director Syd Mead. “In our downtime between shoots, we devoured anything we could find by him and became obsessed with his rationale and predictions that were behind his designs for the film, in particular his thoughts on density, augmentation, and how cities would evolve seem to be very much on track to coming true,” Blachford says. The photographer referencing how Mead’s designs reflect bustling urban environments stuffed with neon signage, holograms, and giant advertisements, almost like a neverending cyberpunk Times Square. The designer, considered a “visual futurist,” also believes that implants that will augment our abilities will be the smartphone of the future.

Blachford also turned to the film’s music for motivation on long night shoots. “On quite a few of the nights shooting we had the soundtrack playing in my pocket to keep us inspired and trying to find ‘Syd’ moments of texture, patina, and density,” he says. One image in the series is even titled “Deckard’s Den” in reference to the film’s protagonist.

Blachford pulled out all the stops to get the photos he wanted. To capture the Nagakin Capsule building, he convinced a crew of 15 highway repairmen who were using a crane lift to allow him to use their equipment so he could get the right shot. Because of the angle, Blachford was able to capture the entire building in his frame. The building looks like a stack of blocks, and the neon light reflects off its circular windows, giving the image a surreal finish. The result is a gorgeous photograph that’s rich with color and texture, despite it being nighttime.

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There’s a reason why all the images focus so wholeheartedly on the architecture–with no humans to be seen. “I love shooting architecture, not only because I am obsessed with how a building acts as a sculpture itself but also to unpack our ideas that we have about walls, private property, and what it is to be an outsider,” Blachford says. “I think all my work tries to create a stage devoid of humans for people to script their own drama behind the walls and also consider their place in relation to each building, of what it is to be on the outside looking in.”

He hopes to turn the series into an exhibition and a book in the coming year, and go back to the city so he can add more images to the series.

“Tokyo to me feels like the future in many ways. I walk around wide-eyed and open-mouthed just shaking my head at how crazy it can be sometimes,” Blachford says. “I wanted the images to try and convey that sense using the architecture as the star of the images.”

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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