Lighting, Locations, Portrait, Uncategorized

Recent Portraits: Yoshiyuki Sankai of Cyberdyne Inc.

I think I was about 8 when I watched James Cameron’s fantastic documentary Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the first time, and by golly that film scared the bejeezus out of me. Something about that scene where Linda Hamilton gets nuked, has her skin burned off and is turned into a skeleton in her nightmare really caused me to crap my pants. Also, the bit where the T-1000 stabs that carton of milk was particularly upsetting to me, for some reason.

But the scene that really lodged itself into 8 year old self’s head was the death scene of token black character Miles Dyson, Cyberdyne employee and inventor of the microchip technology that would eventually lead to the self-aware computer called Skynet and all the nuclear shenanigans that entailed. In this scene Dyson, in keeping with the fine tradition of all token black characters in cinema history, has been shot and left for dead by all the white characters who have vacated the area quicker than a train carriage emptying out after a particularly bad fart. Poor Dyson, wounded and unable to move, is left holding up a weight over the triggering device that will blow up Cyberdyne and end the threat of Skynet forever. As his breath fades away, we are confronted with the terrible tragedy of man’s eternal struggle with the relentless nature of time and creeping death, bearing the weight of sacrifice for as long as possible before the reaper claims you for the last. Dyson is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good but he continues to hold aloft that weight until his final gasp, because racked with pain and exhaustion though he is, he now realizes how sweet and precious each moment of life he struggles through is.

And when the end finally comes for Dyson in the form of fire, explosions and the utter destruction of Cyberdyne, we are left with a feeling of sadness at his death, and yet that sadness is tempered by the knowledge that in the end his life and death had meaning and consequence. As a frightened 8 year old, this scene really made me stop and reconsider my outlook on life. We should all try to be a bit more like Dyson.

How unsettling then, 24 years later, when I received an email from Forbes Asia asking me to photograph the founder of Cyberdyne Industries. I had been under the impression that, similar to my urine-soaked nightmares of the T-1000, that the ghost of Cyberdyne was well and truly behind me! Obviously not, as it appeared that Cyberdyne Industries not only still existed, but had its HQ on the outskirts of Tokyo, and no one seemed to think this was a big deal!

Now, I wasn’t sure which I found more worrying – the fact that I was originally told that I had only 5 minutes to shoot a cover and inside shots, or that the threat of invincible robot hunter-killer machines and a nuclear winter still hung over the human race. Both issues are certainly cause for concern however my approach to tackling multiple problems dictates that I should start with the more achievable one, which is why I emailed the press lady asking if it was at all possible to extend my 5 minutes to 10. Yes, I know that the possible threat of genocide and human extinction via autonomous machines definitely seems like the more pressing issue but I’m just an editorial photographer, what do you expect me to do?

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (10)

Anyway, while I waited for the lady to get back to me I began to do some research on Cyberdyne, even though I knew what I was going to find: death, destruction, and men made of liquid metal. Contrary to my expectations however, they were manufacturing robotic exoskeletons which can sense the intentions of the user through nerve impulses detected through the suit’s sensors, and assists them with a carefully applied amount of force that helps them ‘exert more motor energy than usual’. This revelation was surprising to me, because the Cyberdyne I thought I knew did not specialize in exoskeletons, but rather ‘living tissue over metal endoskeleton’.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (1)

My unease returned though when I noticed the name they had given their flagship revolutionary exoskeleton model: HAL. If not before, alarms bells were certainly going off inside my head now! The company responsible for the nuclear annihilation of Judgment Day, teaming up with the malevolent, murdering AI from the spaceship Discovery One? At this point I had forgotten all about the extremely brief 5 minutes I had been allotted to photograph Mr. Sankai, the visionary behind this new Cyberdyne. I would have been happy with 15 seconds if it meant I could walk out of there without HAL locking me out of the pod-bay doors to die alone and hopeless in the vacuum of space.

Eventually though the press lady got back to me and very nicely told me I could have 10 minutes, and so resigned to my fate I packed my gear and drove to Cyberdyne HQ where I met Mr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, the founder. And let me tell you right now that he is genuinely just a really, really nice man. I mean, the whole thing about building an army of robots in secret that will eventually gain sentience and wipe out the human race notwithstanding, I really warmed to Mr. Sankai. I could sense he really cared about his work and what the important innovations it is making in the field of robotics and the eventual subjugation of humanity. Sometimes you can get so caught up in a company’s image that you forget that behind the facade there are real, honest and committed people working towards their vision of a better future, or, in this case, apocalypse.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (6)

Anyway, my allotted 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes as Mr. Sankai was very generous with his time and seemed very amenable to all of the ideas that I wanted to try (even in the face of metallic doom I can’t help but get enthusiastic if I think I’m onto something good). Everything worked out great – I was really happy with the photos and Mr. Sankai was gracious and patient right up until he had to leave to have a meeting with the Minister of Technology, where I’m sure they bargained over the fate of mankind. The only real negative was that I was bumped from the cover by the Singaporean Lee Kwan Yew dude who died that month, but hey, considering that I managed to walk away from a shoot at Cyberdyne without getting Terminated, I consider myself pretty lucky already.

Well anyway, thanks for reading another overly lengthy blog post in which absolutely nothing of worth to the photographic community is discussed. I hope you enjoyed it, and please stay tuned for the next post about a shocking story in which an analog film hipster gains sentience. Bye!

PS: Just in case you didn’t get the joke (and to be honest, I can hardly blame you), Cyberdyme does not actually make killer death robots. They are a wonderful company at the forefront of ‘cybernics’, as it’s called on their homepage, which is about using robotics to help make people’s lives better. Their exoskeletons have numerous applications in the physical rehabilitation of stroke victims or the partially paralyzed. They are an awesome company!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (4)Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (7)