The year is 2020 and since a nuclear terrorist attack on Sarajevo in 2015, the first world has gone in full on surveillance mode. Faces, brainwaves and heartbeats are monitored by various devices at every intersections, and “terror” has dropped to almost non-existence. In developing countries, that’s another story: civil war and genocide have become pandemic.
Captain Clavis Shepherd, US Special Ops, has been tasked, along with his unit of nanotech-augmented and psychologically-optimized commandos, to hunt down the mysterious John Paul, MIT-trained linguist turned security consultant, that seems to always be present wherever humanitarian disaster occurs.
Through undercover surveillance of John Paul’s acquaintance Lucia Škroupova, Czech language teacher and femme fatale, Shepherd finds out that the linguist has managed to analyze and weaponize the deep structure of grammar. The heat rises as foreign governments and military sub-contractors want their piece of the action, and of course Shepherd’s orders are to capture John Paul, and not to kill, because someone in Washington is interested.
And Captain Shepherd is just a dumb soldier, programmed to kill, doing his job, following orders. Right?
Genocidal Organ is the movie adaptation of Japanese writer Project Itoh (real name Satoshi Ito, 1974-2009). Before his unexpected passing due to a rare disease, Itoh has given us four novels: Genocidal Organ) (2007), the dystopia Harmony (2008, anime adaptation 2015), the novelization of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008), and a complex steampunk adventure, The Empire of Corpses (2012, anime adaptation 2015).
The opening scene, a tourist choosing “Japanese” in an audio guide app on his phone, accomplishes two things on the metadiscursive level. First, it gives a brilliant justification for American characters to speak Japanese, and second, it tells us from the start that the central theme of the movie will be language.
In a nutshell, generative grammar, an actual linguistic theory developed mostly at MIT, links our comprehension of reality to the structure of languages, claiming that the deep structure of about any given language is always similar (subject, verb, predicate), a structure inherited from an innate and universal grammar (hence the double meaning of “organ”, a body part that we all carry and an instrument to be played). This skeleton language is then filled with words that carry specific meanings, on the superficial layer of communication. In Genocidal Organ, John Paul was able to reverse-engineer the process to affect the cognitive structure by hacking the superficial level, hence triggering hatred among otherwise peaceful nations. But why? And for whom? The desperate choices every character has to make is only the reflection of the murky ethics inherent to the human condition.
There is an obvious parallel to be drawn between Genocidal Organ and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Both rightfully posit language as the “source code” of the human “machine”. Hack language, and you hack humanity. But, when it comes to real life, the Snow Crash virus stays on the level of the metaphor. Despite the disturbing power of memes, we are still a far cry from instantaneous bio-neural reprogramming. Itoh’s “genocidal organ” does not work on an individual basis like Stephenson’s, its exploit is systemic, and it does not physically reprogram the brains of its victims, it re-writes the operating system of a given society.
Playing the Organ.
If, like I do, the blend of cyberpunk you favor is immediate near future with realistic tech and heavy philosophical ideas that apply to the present, then Genocidal Organ hits the bullseye. Supported by top-notch animation, multi-layered characters, shady politics, cool yet scary tech, and haunting scenes of violence that faithfully reflect what happens during civil wars, this movie is a strong 10 out of 10 for me.
Furthermore, the story told is an important one for our time, because, and it should be clear to anyone paying attention: when refugees are qualified as “an invasion of illegal aliens”, someone is playing the genocidal organ. And don’t go on thinking that I’m talking only about the USA. No matter what corner of this God-forsaken rock you live in, chances are some locals politicians and pundits are spitting the same rhetoric.
Genocidal Organ : Watch it. Read the book. Discuss it. Take back control of the organ.
Genocidal Organ (anime adaptation) : 10/10
If you would like to purchase the anime adaptation of Project Itoh’s Genocidal Organ, you can find it here.
If you would like to purchase any other work by Project Itoh mentioned above, links to Amazon are included in the article.
The whole theme of hacking the language to influence the mind is a central topic of Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. In retrospect, I’d call it proto-cyberpunk, even though it was definitely Barbarella-esque 1960s science fiction.
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