SEOUL – A tearful reunion between a mother and her dead 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 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’ve missed you a lot. Have you missed me?”
Tears streaming down her face, Jang Ji-sung reached out toward her. “I have missed you, Na-yeon,” she told the computer-generated 6-year-old, her hands moving to stroke her hair.
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 Corp. 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 said.
“The problem lies in that the broadcaster has taken advantage of a vulnerable mother who lost a child for sake of the viewer ratings. If the mother had been counseled before the filming, I wonder what kind of a psychiatrist would approve this.”
It took eight months of filming and programming to create the virtual Na-yeon. The makers of the documentary insisted it was intended to “console the family” rather than promote virtual reality in ultrawired South Korea.
The technology presented a “new way to keep loved ones in memory,” one of the producers told reporters.
Jang — who has her daughter’s name and date of birth tattooed on her arm — hoped the program could console others who have lost loved ones. “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.”