SEOUL: A tearful reunion between a mother and her dead daughter via advanced virtual reality for South Korean television has become an online hit, sparking a fierce debate about voyeurism and exploitation.
Footage began with the young girl – who died of leukemia in 2016 – emerging from behind a pile of wood in a park, as if playing hide and seek.
“Mom, where have you been?” she asks. ” I missed you a lot. You missed me?”
Tears streaming down his face, Jang Ji-sung reached out his hand to her, wracked with emotion.
“I 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 stood in front of a studio green screen, wearing a virtual reality headset and touchscreen gloves, her daughter’s ashes in a locket around her neck.
At times, the camera showed Jang’s husband watching and their three surviving children wiping away their own tears.
A nine-minute clip from the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) documentary “I Met You” has been viewed more than 13 million times in a week on Youtube.
Many viewers offered Jang their sympathy and support for the concept.
“My mother passed away unexpectedly 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 the exploitation of personal pain.
“It’s understandable that a grieving mother would want to meet her late daughter. I would do the same,” he told AFP.
“The problem is that the broadcaster took advantage of a vulnerable mother who lost a child for ratings reasons.”
“If the mother had been counseled before the shoot,” he added, “I wonder what kind of psychiatrist would have approved of that.”
It took eight months of filming and programming to create the virtual Na-yeon, but the makers of the documentary insisted the show was meant to ‘comfort the family’ rather than promote VR in Korea. of the ultra-cabled South.
The technology presented a “new way to remember loved ones,” 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 program could “comfort” others who had lost loved ones.
“Even though it was very brief…I was really happy at the time,” she wrote on her blog, which she has since made private.
During the broadcast, the two sat down 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 mom to stop crying.”