Virtual reality technology may be most commonly associated with video games, but one South Korean TV show is proving it has other important applications, too. Most notably, the ability to bring loved ones back from the grave.
A TV documentary show I Met You recently used VR to digitally recreate the late wife of Kim Jung-soo, a 51-year-old father of five, four years after her passing.
Declaring that his biggest desire was to see “even just a shadow” of his wife one more time, Kim had to first overcome opposition from some of his children. His oldest daughter Jong-bin felt that a reunion would only delay her father’s grieving period. Eventually, she relented.
“It is my last wish” he says, with his daughter adding that “that’s why we decided to allow him to meet Mom again.”
Kim’s other daughter Jong-yun was swayed because of his deep love for her mother. “He would kiss her from time to time when working, when eating, or when watching TV. Even when my mother was sick and lost her hair, my father would say that she was pretty and carried her around,” she recalls.
Kim was also eager to show his youngest children a “live” version of their mother, as she passed away when they were still too little to have any concrete memories of her. Kim’s wife Ji-hye died after years of battling a serious illness.
I Met You, produced by Korean broadcast company MBC, took six months to prepare all the VR tech, using video footage to recreate Ji-hye’s movements and photos to match a digital face and body to her likeness. An actress was brought into meld her own voice with Ji-hye’s reconstructed one to make it sound more lifelike.
The digital reunion began as Kim geared up in his VR headset and entered the green screen room. In his VR view, the setting transformed into the home of memories where they began their family. During the tearful meeting, Kim first asks his virtual wife, “Are you not in pain anymore?” He weeps as he holds her hands and they dance. They walk through a garden together as he gets a final chance for closure.
“Even though I can’t hear you and I don’t see you, I know you’ve always been next to me and the kids,” he tells her, adding that “the kids are doing so well now, so you can relax…don’t worry too much about us” and “I will tell you how the kids are living one by one when the time comes and I go up [to join you].”
Kim’s children, who were able to watch the interaction between their parents from a different room, also got emotional.
The ability to virtually restore a deceased love one on the show has been met with both praise and criticism. Some claim the reunion can be healing for those who have experienced loss, while others believe it allows people to stay stuck in their grief, never properly moving on.
This is not the first time I Met You has used VR to reconnect family members separated by death. In the first season, mother Jang Ji-sung was reunited with her seven-year-old daughter Naveon, who had passed away three years earlier from the rare disease hemochromatosis.