October 1, 2020 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada
It’s been acclaimed at the world’s most prestigious festivals and showcases for immersive storytelling—now virtual reality fans everywhere can experience Randall Okita’s National Film Board of Canada production The Book of Distance free of charge, starting October 8.
In 1935, Yonezo Okita left his home in Hiroshima, Japan, for Canada. Then war and racism changed everything. Three generations later, his grandson Randall leads us on an interactive pilgrimage through an emotional geography of immigration and family to recover what was lost. Okita explores new possibilities for deeply personal storytelling in this room-scale VR experience—the first virtual reality production by this award-winning Canadian artist and filmmaker.
Produced by David Oppenheim (Draw Me Close, Agence) and executive produced by Anita Lee (Stories We Tell) for the NFB’s Ontario Studio in Toronto, The Book of Distance is available on Steam, Viveport and the Oculus Store, in English, French and Japanese.
“What we know about our grandparents and family history often comes in bits and pieces,” said Randall Okita. “The Book of Distance is my attempt to recover all those things my grandfather didn’t say—including certain moments that may have been too painful for him to remember. I wanted to reimagine what he lived through, to recreate an experience that allows others to participate and to bear witness.”
“There is a great loss in the silencing of a community, and these reverberations have played out across generations. Giving Randall a platform to tell his story is an attempt to reclaim these lost stories and, hopefully, create more space for the right conversations to occur,” said producer David Oppenheim.
During its debut at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier, The Book of Distance was hailed by Filmmaker magazine as “a standout… lyrical, personal and moving” and selected as the best narrative experience by The Verge. Short of the Week declared: “Just strap in and be taken on the best interactive VR story told yet.” CNET wrote that The Book of Distance is “an absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking story… a transporting event… the experience was profound” when it was featured at the Tribeca Virtual Arcade at Cannes XR.
From the international SIGGRAPH conference to the Best of VR section at Venice, from the New Images Festival – XR Competition in Paris to Vancouver’s VIFF Immersed and Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival’s Beyond Reality 2020, among others, The Book of Distance has garnered accolades at key events around the globe.
Up next: The Book of Distance is being featured in the Festival du nouveau cinéma de Montréal’s FNC EXPLORE section for new media works, October 7–18.
About the project
In 1935, Yonezo Okita left his home in Hiroshima, Japan, and began a new life in Canada. Then war and state-sanctioned racism changed everything—he became the enemy. Three generations later, his grandson, artist Randall Okita, leads us on an interactive virtual pilgrimage through an emotional geography of immigration and family to recover what was lost.
The Book of Distance blends techniques from mechanical sculpture, film, and stage to redefine personal storytelling in virtual reality. Family archives add a haunting layer of realism. 2D and 3D hand-crafted sets reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, evocative character design, and seamless choreography combine with surprising moments of interaction to gently whisk us across the ocean and through the years.
Okita invites us to participate in this generous act of imagination: a space of magical theatre and generational echoes. He never strays too far from our side as we move through the story’s darker moments. His need to reclaim his grandfather’s lost moments becomes our own. Together we reimagine a significant moment in history and take part in a very personal journey of loss and recovery.
About the creator
Born and raised in Calgary and now based in Toronto and Japan, artist and filmmaker Randall Okita employs sculpture, technology, physically challenging performances or stunts and rich cinematography in his work. The Book of Distance is one of three projects Okita has created with the NFB, which include his multi-award-winning short The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer (2014), a blend of live-action, high-speed camera work and digital animation that received the award for Best Canadian Short Film at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Prix Format Court at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma, and was named Best Experimental Film at both LA Shorts Fest and NY Shorts Fest. His 2016 feature directorial debut, The Lockpicker, received the John Dunning Discovery Award from the Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television, as well as Best First Feature at the 2016 Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. He is currently completing work on the feature See for Me.
Available starting October 8
The Book of Distance is available free at the Steam, Oculus and Viveport stores.
Supported VR headsets include:
HTC Vive; Oculus Rift; Windows Mixed Reality; Valve Index; Oculus Quest + link cable
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