Randall Okita’s virtual reality film about his Japanese and Canadian grandparents goes a long way

Beyond the basic physiological and safety needs there is a motor motivation that the psychologist Abraham Maslow did not recognize in his famous hierarchy of needs. It is what makes some people infinitely curious about what has happened in unsolved mysteries, what causes others to be awake at night wondering why something inexplicable has happened and others to resort to conspiracies or alternative theories.

It is the need to know.

One could call the need for narrative, especially for Canadian filmmaker Randall Okita, who turned to the latest technology to gather fragments of his family’s past in search of answers.

The Okita, based in Toronto, that is yonsei (fourth generation) i here (mixed heritage) of Japanese and Irish descent, he had many persistent questions about his grandfather, Yoneza Okita, who, as a teenager, left his home in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1935 for the distant land known as Canada.

“The Book of Distance”

On the phone, Okita tells Straight Georgia that he knew of moments, dates, and facts of his grandfather’s story. But they were left empty, which is reflected in the title of his first virtual reality film, “The Book of Distance.” This production by the National Film Board of Canada offers a virtual room-scale experience, including family photos and archival documents, of the lives of their grandparents, which was interrupted by the internment of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War. World War.

“We not only know the distance between now and then, but also the distance between those moments,” he says.

The 25-minute interactive piece premiered in January 2020 and is available for viewing with virtual reality headsets on Steam, Viveport and Oculus Store. It gained additional layers of resonance during an era in which social and physical distancing entered the lexicon, not to mention parallels with restrictions on displacement and mobility, the separation of families and generations, and so on. After the limitations in presenting the play during the pandemic, Okita says he is “very grateful” to be able to share the project at the Powell Street Festival in Vancouver, which he considers “the perfect home” for his piece.

“The Book of Distance”

Okita, who says he was “in love with the possibilities of telling stories” of virtual reality, embarked on a “huge learning curve” about technology four years ago and took advantage of all his artistic experiences in film, sculpture, installation and theater. project, which immerses and integrates viewers within the narrative.

“When people talk about respecting your audience or sharing it with them enough, but letting them fill in the blanks, I think that’s a good story, but … that’s the way to engage people because they get involved. “It’s about getting them involved,” he said. explain.

In addition, Okita also wanted to “demonstrate that the idea of ​​relating to the past can be an act of imagination.” Instead of dealing only with facts and dates, he says “it can be playful and embodied and physical” to find new ways to “understand and learn about history and also find new ways to look to the future because we often think something is inevitable. and there are so many possibilities ”.

“The Book of Distance”

Originally, Okita had thought it would be her decision to choose to tell the story of her grandparents the crucial moment of change and healing.

“But now I realize,” he says, “that it’s the fact that he’s coming out here and that people share it and that going beyond me is what changes things.” For example, he says he has seen a “physical difference” in his father’s stance when he talks about the project.

“This story that was associated with hard times, losses and sadness: now he talks about this story and talks about it with pride because it is repeated and shared,” he adds.

Also, one of the “most powerful things,” he points out, has been talking to people after visions “because people, after checking it out, are often quite emotional.”

While Japanese culture favors retaining uncomfortable truths to maintain harmony, and Okita says his grandfather was “the quietest man I’ve ever met,” he believes he breaks traditional silences with positive light.

“The question is, what do we lose when we don’t learn or talk about these things?” he asks. “I want to tell the story of my grandparents because, for me, they are heroic stories: the fact of being resilient and surviving, and the fact of being able to raise children and point them in the direction of a good life without bitterness. “

“The Book of Distance” will be on display at the 2021 Powell Street Festival from Wednesday (July 28) to August 1. Okita will also appear in a talk on his work on Sunday (August 1) at the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Hall. For more information and to register for tours, visit the Powell Street Festival website.


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