The Book of Distance is one of the best VR narratives or immersive stories I’ve ever seen. Director Randall Okita tells the story of his grandfather Yonezo Okita’s journey from Hiroshima, Japan to Canada in 1935 to begin a new life. It has some theatrical staging with motion-captured actors as you move from traveling to homesteading, and then eventually being forced into a Japanese internment camp during the World War II and exploring the nuances of the state-sanctioned racism that followed.
There are moments when you become an embodied participant going through the motions through each of the scenes, which allowed me to drop more fully into the story and have a much more immersive and viscerally emotional journey. It’s as if the story is in my body now in a profoundly deeply way, and even just writing about it brings back swells of emotions as I think about my experience of it at Sundance.
I had chance to unpack the experiential design process with lead artist Randall Okita as well as National Film Board of Canada (NFB/interactive) producer David Oppenheim during Sundance 2020. We explore the design aesthetic of Japanese woodblock prints, evocative character design, the choreography and motion captured scenes performed by Okita himself, and the subtleties of interaction design. Overall, The Book of Distance packs in so many immersive storytelling innovations that I really hope that general audiences will be able to experience it soon because it really showcases the power of what virtual reality narratives can achieve.
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