Skynet (stylised as SKYNET) is a 2045 Japanese-American science fiction action film written and directed by Harue Tanaka as their first live-action feature. Set in the Terminator universe, Skynet sidesteps the franchise’s original canon and is billed by Tanaka as a “reimagining of the original film.”
The film stars Keiko Komatsu as Sarah Connor, who is targeted for termination by Skynet, a malevolent artificial intelligence (AI) that has enslaved all of humanity in the dystopian future of 2094. Sarah must evade Skynet and embrace her fate as humanity’s saviour with the help of Kyle Reese, played by Shugo Uedo. Skynet reimagines its titular threat as sentient software that can control people through their neural colloids, and is therefore portrayed by a number of actors, primarily Takahiro Matsuda.
Despite a troubled production due to a diplomatic row between China and Japan, Skynet was considered a success when it released in August 2045, with significant praise for its screenplay, direction, themes, and action sequences. It is credited with reigniting interest in the Terminator franchise and launching the acting careers of Komatsu and Uedo.
In 2045 Tokyo, a man offering a toast at a company party (Takahiro Matsuda) stops his speech mid-sentence and calmly leaves to the confusion of his colleagues. Moments later, another man at the party (Shugo Uedo) is panicked by something unseen and runs away after asking what year it is. After they each gather weapons, the two men converge on Sarah Connor (Keiko Komatsu), a member of an underground resistance group that opposes G6. Right before the first man is able to shoot Sarah, he is killed by the second man, who calls himself Kyle Reese and fends off two more attackers who strangely appear one after the other.
As they escape and hide in a parking lot, Kyle explains that he was sent back in time from the year 2094, when a sentient artificial intelligence (AI) known as Skynet has emerged from G6 and enslaved humanity by taking over people through their neural colloids. Anyone without a colloid is hunted down by Skynet’s “nodes” and forcefully implanted in an all-consuming effort to grow its processing power, which consists of “server farms” where people’s brains are linked in a massive neural network.
By 2094, Skynet has captured and networked almost all of humanity, giving it the processing mass required to effect a method of time travel by “downloading” a node of itself into the past. This node is a copy of Skynet that can use G6 in the present to jump between people’s colloids and control their actions, though it can only jump once its host brain expires and is unable to “overwrite” Kyle. Before Kyle can reveal why Sarah is being targeted, Skynet tracks them down, resulting in a car chase that ends with Sarah and Kyle in police custody.
At the police station, Kyle’s story is attributed to a split personality, though one officer is puzzled by Kyle’s neurometric ping, which brings up an unregistered montage. Sarah is questioned about her anti-G6 activities and almost subjected to a forced colloid implant when she refuses to give up her fellow resistance members. Skynet arrives by crashing a truck into the police station and jumping between officers in an attempt to get to Sarah, who frees Kyle and narrowly escapes the chaos.
After finding shelter in an analog motel, Kyle reveals to Sarah that Skynet has targeted her because she will one day be responsible for the development of a hack that can wither all of G6, which has succeeded in the future and resulted in the network’s gradual breakdown, assuring Skynet’s destruction. The human resistance uploaded the hack to G6 only moments after Skynet had reached the critical processing mass required for sending itself back through time, giving Kyle only a few seconds to send himself back as well before the network became too withered to allow another transfer.
The next day, Sarah and Kyle visit Sarah’s resistance friend Ginger, who is working on a hack like the one Kyle described. Kyle deduces from a few uncanny tics that Skynet is impersonating Ginger and shoots her to the dismay of Sarah, who angrily beats him until he shows her the mark of a recent colloid implant on Ginger’s arm. After finding a copy of Ginger’s files that Skynet overlooked, Sarah convinces Kyle to infiltrate Tokyo’s G6 hub and upload the hack, bringing down the network and stopping Skynet from ever emerging.
The pair breaks into the G6 hub and locates an open terminal while fighting off guards and technicians controlled by Skynet. Kyle succeeds in rendering a guard unconscious before Skynet can suicide him, which momentarily traps it and gives Sarah an opening to upload the hack. After it fails and Sarah finds that Ginger’s work is incomplete, the guard wakes up and injects her with a colloid before killing himself. Fearing that Skynet will be able to control her once the colloid reaches her brain, Sarah improvises a collocidal using ultrasonic equipment, but realises that setting it off will also affect the colloid of Kyle’s host. When Skynet attacks again, Sarah activates the collocidal at Kyle’s plea and deletes both him and Skynet from their hosts, who are reverted to their real selves with no memories of what happened.
An epilogue shows Sarah on the run from authorities as she is approached by someone claiming to be Kyle. He explains that the attempt to send him back from the year 2094 to intercept Skynet seemingly didn’t work the first time, forcing the human resistance to try again. Realising that at least two Kyles were downloaded into the past as copies of the 2094 Kyle, Sarah is left wondering whether Skynet also managed to send multiple copies of itself in order to guarantee its own existence.
After a series of abortive attempts to revive the Terminator franchise in the 2030s and early 2040s, a deal for a new film in the series was struck with Kuzedai in 2044, after Harue Tanaka‘s spec script had drawn the attention and approval of James Cameron. When they got the green light, Tanaka personally asked Takahiro Matsuda to star as the new Terminator, which he accepted “on the strength of their vision and enthusiasm.” Shugo Uedo was chosen for the role of Kyle Reese in October 2044, and Keiko Komatsu was cast as Sarah Connor when she accompanied her brother during his audition for Kyle and “immediately grabbed [Tanaka’s] attention.“
When the film was announced under the Skynet title on November 15th 2044, China reacted by warning Japan of “a harsh response” unless Tanaka was removed from the project, which was attributed to their outspoken criticism of G6. When Matsuda threatened to walk away unless Tanaka retained their position as director, Kuzedai cut the film’s production budget and issued a list of increasingly stringent notes, including that “any attack upon G6 must be shown to fail” and “any depiction of robots, drones, or autonomous machines committing violence is forbidden.” Tanaka considered stepping down from the project, but pressed on at the urging of Cameron and Matsuda. To accommodate the reduction in scope, Tanaka developed the premise of depicting Skynet as software instead of cyborg assassins, and rewrote their script during “a two-day fever dream.”
Filming for Skynet took place between December 2044 and March 2045, with four location shoots in addition to virtual sets and AI-generated performances. Tanaka often rewrote scenes or dialogues moments before they were shot, describing the process as “tumultuous.” The twist that Skynet would not exterminate humanity but use it as a neural network, which Tanaka credited to an idea cut from The Matrix, was added within a week of production wrapping and required several reshoots.
Though his starring role was significantly reduced, Matsuda supported Tanaka’s new direction for Skynet and stayed involved with the production after his scenes were shot to coach Komatsu and Uedo, and to “continue the ruse that [he] was an evil new Terminator instead of the quickly disposed first vessel of Skynet.” Tanaka praised Matsuda’s “willingness to go along with [their] schemes, even coming up with a few of his own” and jokingly called China’s interference “a blessing in disguise” for creating the opportunity to “subvert audience expectations.”
After filming was completed on March 31st 2045, Tanaka reached out to Nadira Bentoumi and Rokaya Toussaint to create the score for Skynet. They worked closely with Tanaka to “both recapture and reinterpret the discordant sounds” of The Terminator, using mostly analog synthesisers and developing several data sonification techniques for Skynet’s leitmotif, which represents “the flow of data as it courses between nodes” as a counterpart to the “heavy metallic clangs” of the original score.
Skynet was released to streaming services on August 29th 2045, a date chosen as a reference to August 29th 1997, which is mentioned in Terminator 2: Judgment Day as the day Skynet becomes self-aware. It was met with critical acclaim, with significant praise for its screenplay, direction, themes, and action sequences. Despite a lacklustre promotion campaign, Skynet topped many streaming charts and has been called “the best Terminator film without any Terminators in it.”
Tanaka received particular praise for their “innovative editing techniques to keep a clear overview during the action-heavy scenes where Skynet sometimes jumps between multiple people within seconds.” They have described the structure of the jumping scenes as “puzzle rooms,” with Skynet having to “calculate the quickest node path to reach Sarah.” Komatsu and Uedo were commended for their roles, as both were new to acting in feature films. Komatsu won the Newcomer of the Year prize at the Japanese Academy Awards, and Uedo was singled out for “convincingly showing the psychological struggle of a man occupying the body of another, forced to kill innocent people possessed by a power not unlike his own.”
Skynet faced criticism from some Terminator fans for its “dismissal” of the franchise canon, which has made Tanaka the target of harassment and abuse from social bots. Matsuda has repeatedly defended Tanaka’s work and pointed to “the working conditions they were forced to navigate.” The film was not cleared for release in China and has been censored, with searches for tags related to Skynet yielding the message that “the topic’s page cannot be shown due to related laws, regulations, and policies” as of 2049.