A tearful "reunion" between a mother and a virtual recreation of her daughter, who died at the age of 7 in 2016, has brought an outpouring of emotional reactions since the documentary "Meeting You" was aired on Feb. 6.
While some people praise the "creative" use of the new technology, others criticize it for being "emotionally manipulative."
In a recent interview with The Korea Times, Kim Jong-woo said he was glad his show opened up such dialogue.
He said he may be the first one to use the technology in such a way, but certainly not the last. "Like photo technology did in the past, the technology will bring questions on how people should utilize it and to what extent," he added.
The video clip of Jang Ji-sung meeting her deceased daughter Na-yeon in virtual reality garnered more than 19 million views online.
"I believe, just like a picture or a video, virtual reality technology can be one way of remembering someone," Kim said. "The project started with the idea of meeting a deceased person. At first, I did not know which method to use to make it possible, but then I came across the VR technology."
He pointed out that the reunion was just one aspect of the far bigger story about the mother, the daughter and the family. The show touches on each family member's different way of remembering Na-yeon, building up moments toward the reunion day.
"I wanted to make the experience more real for viewers ― the experience of spending the past year with this family," Kim said.
Kim said there was something special about the family that motivated him to make the documentary on the family story.
"The mother wasn't just sad but wanted to meet the child again, because she died only a week after her diagnosis (of a mysterious illness)," he said. "The mother wanted to do something for her but she couldn't do anything."
The moment Jang puts on the VR gear, Na-yeon shows up behind a woodpile in a nearby park and runs toward her calling, "Mom." Na-yeon's father and her three siblings see the virtual world through a monitor.
Bursting into tears to see the digitalized figure in the daughter's favorite outfit, Jang tells virtual Na-yeon how much she has missed her in a quivering voice. "Mom missed you so much, Na-yeon," she said.
The VR story continues as the virtual Na-yeon invites Jang to the table filled with Na-yeon's favorite dishes, seaweed soup and rice cake ― a snack she said she wanted to eat if she recovered.
It took a few months for the production team to collect information of Na-yeon to create the digital world with all the details.
"Memory lies in the family's daily life," Kim said as he explained that the team took the time to observe the family and to gather the memories of Na-yeon.
"One thing I tried not to do was adding my thoughts to the show, which would make it look like a fictional game," he said. "Whether it might not seem as interesting or heartfelt, I wanted to create something fully based on the interviews. So they would think "this was what I had in mind.'"
Kim said he made the avatar figure through 3-D scanning of a child model based on her photos and videos; he also reproduced her voice by using "similar voices" from child actors.
Given that the technology still has limits in visualizing a realistic human figure, he said he was not sure about the quality until the last minute.
"I was worried how the mother would react (when she sees the digitized Na-yeon)," Kim said. "No matter how hard we tried to make the character similar, she still can tell the difference. But she said she was happy to see even the slight reflection of Na-yeon."
He noted that despite the imperfect images of the VR world, the mother really engaged in the moment.
During the reunion, the mother had a chance to say said goodbye ― the words that she was not able to say to her daughter in person before her sudden death.
The mother also said, "I still have things to do (in this world) and when I'm done, I will be with you Na-yeon … I love you."
After the first episode was aired, Jang told staff that she felt like she "had a nice dream."
"At the end of the day, she said she was happy to see her daughter on a big screen, rather than feeling manipulated," Kim said.
Taking this project as a foothold in applying technology in TV production. Kim said he would continue to take advantage of it for his productions.
"Thankfully, a lot of people reacted positively to my show, so I'm going to humbly review it before starting to work on the next one," he said.
I don't know if the videos need a TW, but I know it could be emotional to watch. What do you think, Omona? On one hand I understand the criticism, but I am also not a grieving mother trying to heal.
source: The Korea Times, THE KOREA TIMES & MBClife