South Korean TV ‘reunites’ mother with deceased daughter in VR show


PTI, Feb 14, 2020, 4:41 PM IST

Seoul: A tearful reunion between a mother and her deceased daughter via advanced virtual reality for a South Korean television has become an online hit, triggering fierce debate about voyeurism and exploitation.

The footage began with the girl who died of leukaemia in 2016 emerging from behind a pile of wood in a park as if playing hide-and-seek.

“Mum, where have you been?” she asks. “I’ve missed you a lot. Have you missed me?” Tears streaming down her face, Jang Ji-sung reached out towards her, wracked with emotion.

“I have missed you Na-Yeon,” she told the computer-generated six-year-old, her hands moving to stroke her hair.

But in the real world, Jang was standing in front of a studio green screen, wearing a virtual reality headset and touch-sensitive gloves, her daughter’s ashes in a locket around her neck.

At times the camera cut to Jang’s watching husband and their three surviving children, wiping away tears of their own.

A nine-minute clip of the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) documentary “I met you” has been watched more than 13 million times in a week on Youtube.

Many viewers offered Jang their sympathy and support for the concept.

“My mother unexpectedly passed away two years ago and I wish I could meet her through virtual reality,” said one.

But media columnist Park Sang-Hyun said the documentary amounted to exploitation of personal pain.

“It’s understandable a grief-stricken mother would wish to meet her late daughter. I would do the same,” he told AFP.

“The problem lies in that the broadcaster has taken advantage of a vulnerable mother who lost a child for the sake of the viewer ratings.”

“If the mother had been counselled before the filming,” he added, “I wonder what kind of a psychiatrist would approve this.”

It took eight months of filming and programming to create the virtual Na-Yeon, but the makers of the documentary insisted the broadcast was intended to “console the family” rather than promote virtual reality in ultra-wired South Korea.

The technology presented a “new way to keep loved ones in memory”, one of the producers told reporters.

Jang herself who has her daughter’s name and date of birth tattooed on her arm in memory hoped the programme could “console” others who had lost loved ones.

“Even though it was a very brief, I was really happy in the moment,” she wrote on her blog which she has since turned private.

During the broadcast the two sat at a table to celebrate Na-Yeon’s missing birthdays, singing “happy birthday” together.

Before blowing out the candles, Na-Yeon made a birthday wish, “I want my mother to stop crying.”

 

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