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GOCRITIC! Anifilm Liberec 2024

GoCritic! Review: Frequency


- We explore intimacy and the increased level of viewer's participation in VR films based on Japanese artist Ellie Omiya's 30-minute piece which screened in Anifilm's VR Competition

GoCritic! Review: Frequency

Understanding its intimate nature, the prominence of VR technology has recently increased among filmmakers and visual artists wishing to tell personal stories related to self-realisation, struggle with mental illnesses, and meaningful traumatic events by employing the first-person point of view that reflects upon or shares their experiences. In a way, it could be perceived as a therapy session, since the dialogue between the participant and the character is happening in a protected space created by virtual walls. In relation to the connection between a VR film and a spectator, it would be more appropriate to describe the person experiencing the work as the participant, since VR films often require much more engagement than traditional cinema.

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In Japanese visual artist Ellie Omiya’s 30-minute VR film, Frequency, screened in Anifilm's VR Competition, the participant is invited to embark on a journey through self-discovery, guided by a young artist, Anna (voiced by Shuji Onodera). The story starts in a limitless blank room with 2D characters that resemble paper dolls with faces and bodies chaotically painted with crayons, looking like quirky drawings of a five-year-old kid. Young Anna tells the story of her growing up always feeling left out and displaced. However, later she stumbles upon the physics concept of frequency that helps her gain confidence and finally feel like a part of the world surrounding her.

Throughout the film, Omiya often emphasizes the opposition between the individual and the collective. For instance, in all of the group scenes Anna is overly self-conscious about what others think of her, she feels pressured and alone. It’s when she becomes isolated from society that she finds her path and the will to move on.

Gradually, as Anna discovers truths about herself and her surroundings, her world starts to expand, becoming brighter and more colourful. It transforms into a dream-like place without boundaries, where Anna can evoke any image or shape that could possibly be imagined, such as a dim night sky with twinkling stars or magical fields and forests which you can glide above on a piece of wood while ethereal sounds and wind are heard in the background.

Aside from the story being told one-on-one, which is powerful enough in itself, the participant is asked to get involved by writing and doodling, requiring physical engagement in addition to emotionally involving the participant. Another example of that is a segment during which the participant is instructed to turn around because the scene is taking place in the rear. The interactive element adds a level of conscious decision-making to the entire experience, leaving participants deeply engaged and making the distance between the film and the spectator almost unnoticeable compared to the traditional cinema experience.

Though, following the character and story development of Frequency, one might argue that the film would highly benefit from the 2D characters becoming 3D towards the end. In a key scene towards the ending, Anna experiences a transformation, detaching from all the negative thoughts that were dragging her down, bringing up an expectation of her becoming a 3D character, which remains unfulfilled.

The film lends itself to being a metaphor for VR as a form of cinema since it’s all about the individual experience which traditional cinema can only achieve up to a certain point. Even if several people were enjoying the same VR experience at the same time, due to the isolating nature of the technology, the intenseness and intimacy of the experience allows one to reevaluate the importance of individual goals and self-development over everyday activities imposed by their role in society.

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