THROUGH FIRE: from virtual events to virtual reality


As a result of the pandemic, it is difficult to remember a time when there were no virtual events. Somehow we managed to survive the isolation of the last 15 months with the help of these socially distant encounters, already known, that happened from the comfort of home.

Realizing the poor substitution of these on-screen events for real social contact, I got confused looking for reasons to like them, the main one being that I didn’t have to get in the car (or sometimes even to the plane) to join me. .

It is understandable that the question remains whether some companies and organizations will continue to use Zoom and other platforms to hold meetings, public programs and even camp pilgrimages so that people can gather from all over the city and / or even everywhere. of the world with just a few clicks of a computer keyboard and no danger of spreading germs.

I still suffer from PCSD (post-COVID stress syndrome) and live with anxiety the very slow process in the world getting herd immunity, I have recently been addicted to Zoom conversations. Thanks to the miracle of science that the vaccine has given us, we have now been given permission to eat out, travel, and even enter stores without masks (although wearing one is still a good option).

Masked and still with some uneasiness, last week I ventured on a plane for the first time in almost two years to attend a big New York event that seemed to go from virtual to live almost overnight. Despite my residual fears of pandemic flight and subway danger, I headed out to New York City, where I was lucky enough to be part of a team that attended the Tribeca Festival (formerly Tribeca Festival). Movie Festival, but changed its name to include projects considered not strictly cinematographic).

Fortunately, during the two-week event, all security protocols were taken very seriously, even needing masks for outdoor events.

With some irony, I was at this very live event for a project whose category used the word “virtual” in a very different sense. Virtual reality or immersive technology has become part of many film festivals and our project, “A Life in Pieces: Stanley Hayami’s Diary and Letters,” was one of them. For those who are not schooled like me in virtual reality, it uses computer technology to transport viewers to a moving three-dimensional environment with the use of headphones designed to place viewers inside a space other than the space you are in.

Actor Kurt Kanazawa, director Nonny de la Pena, and Sharon Yamato.

I was signed up for the project because I had made a documentary (“A Blink in Eternity”) about the story behind it: a promising young man who had an illuminating diary while imprisoned in Heart Mountain and then wrote letters from the front after joining the 442nd ECA. A talented writer and gifted artist, Stanley Hayami created an enlightening diary of prose and art that is not only a beautiful artifact at JANM, but the perfect vehicle for telling the history of the camp vividly and virtual.

Stanley’s incarnation in VR was selected as one of a dozen immersive pieces that were presented at this world-class festival. Nearly three years of creation by pioneering virtual reality director Nonny de la Pena and the Emblematic Group along with the Japanese American National Museum and Densho, “A Life in Pieces” used such familiar things as sophisticated animation and imagery. file to achieve effects, as well as techniques unknown (to me) such as photogrammetry and other technologies to blow things off the screen.

Not knowing what to expect in this category that used advanced technology to tell a story, I was amazed at the number of projects that filled a giant room with high ceilings and several smaller ones in Tribeca’s Spring Studio while they were teaching. very disinfected and helped to take care of the latest generation headphones. This broad new technology uses acronyms such as XR to include VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), and MR (mixed reality) to describe creative projects that go far beyond the flat screen to which audiences are accustomed.

Although I often felt out of my league, I was able to enjoy all the benefits a first class festival had to offer. There was enough petulant, liquid partying to make everyone happy, but by far the best part was spending time talking to those who knew little about our own family history of war, while I had a chance to exploit the history of young people. man behind everything.

Stanley comes to life in this immersive project with the help of actor Kurt Kanazawa, who brought his heart to portray this twin soul who died trying to save a fellow soldier during an intense fight in the Italian Apennines. On the “Voices of VR” podcast, Nonny, Kurt, and I had a chance to talk about this teenage soldier who made us see life with his hopeful eyes. As I shared his story, I wanted this young man who had clearly captured our hearts to do the same for young virtual reality enthusiasts who otherwise would never have heard of him.

It was great to experience all of Tribeca’s excitement with this three-generation team as we strolled through the city that never sleeps. It was characterized by the three of us jumping on Citi bikes in New York as if we knew what we were doing and competing from Soho on drums from one event to another on electric bikes that frighteningly defied speed limits, always keeping us close each other.

Stanley’s story seemed to bring together this Latin VR director, an Asian-American mixed actor, and me for a synchronous reason: to make sure the story of someone who died for his country while his family was imprisoned was told in different places in different ways. that we never forget it.

Angelenos will have the opportunity to experience this virtual reality piece when it opens at JANM on July 9th for an extended run. If you’re curious about how a teen in 1942 can come to life in 2021, I encourage you all to make an appointment to book a headset to experience them in all their virtual reality glory. The fusion of past and future will be waiting for you for a long time.


Sharon Yamato writes from King’s Beach and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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