Hyper-Reality: An Interview with Keiichi Matsuda

 

Keiichi Matsuda’s short film, Hyper-Reality (the first part of a series) tries to simulate what the future might look like when augmented reality, a digital layer over the real world, is something each of us uses daily. The film’s plot covers about an hour of the life of Juliana Restrepo, as she catches a bus to the supermarket, does some shopping and considers the meaning of life. She considers erasing her digital identity and starting again, but decides not to – it would mean losing her loyalty points.

With constant alerts, calls and advertising, an inspiration guru offering inane advice, the film’s jarring world is at once totally plausible and uncanny. Matsuda adds aspects to the augmented reality world that make it likable: the interface is colourful; a cute digital dog sits on Juliana Restrepo’s shopping trolley, offering discounts and sprouting a top-hat. When at one point she restarts her system and the AR world shuts off, you’re left standing in a grey supermarket with a screaming baby – the noise hidden before by pings and beeps, products telling you to buy them and the imploring yaps of the dog. The film shows that a world with this sort of digital layer would never quite feel real: turning the layer off is as disconcerting as having it on. 

An architect by training, Matsuda has done work for BVLGARI and Veuve Clicquot and has screened work at the Victoria and Albert Museum and MoMa. Alchemy, the film for Veuve Clicquot is beautiful, tracing the champagne’s history in a cellar with a comet and comet-like images. Matsuda’s love of technology and its possibilities comes through clearly in his work, which is concerned with how new technologies will change our perceptions of and interactions with the physical world.

We asked Matsuda about Hyper-Reality.

 

Why did you choose to film or base the plot of the film in Medellín, Colombia?

When I was starting to think about a new film to follow on from my previous films Domestic Robocop and Augmented City 3D, I had already decided that I didn’t want to shoot in London, or New York, LA etc. I love those cities too, but they are so ubiquitous in culture and science fiction, and I wanted to see how these technologies would unfold in an emerging economy. South Africa was actually near the top of my list. I’ve never been, but I’m a big fan of the South African science fiction writer Lauren Beukes, who has set most of her work in South African cities, and District 9 was fantastic too.

I went to Medellín for the first time in 2012, to speak at a conference called Fractal. While I was there, I spent a lot of time eating great food, visiting different parts of the city, and talking to people about the city and their lives. I was really inspired by the city and its people, and importantly, the organisers of Fractal agreed to produce the film. It’s an amazing city that has gone through some huge changes, and it’s still in the process of defining its future. Once we decided we were going to do it, everything else just fell into place.

In your project for Veuve Clicquot you use a sort of augmented reality to tell the story of the brand, and it’s really pretty. But Hyper-Reality paints a scarier picture of what a digital layer over our real world might do. Are you optimistic about the future?

I try to tread the thin line between optimism and caution in my work. Personally I’m very excited about technology; the new opportunities it brings, its power to transform how we live. But I’m also aware that it has a dark side, which is largely unexplored. Most of the time we see the utopian visions of the big tech companies, and don’t really consider what we’re signing up for until it’s too late. As an independent designer, I feel it’s my duty to respond to the issues and questions of our time.

What research did you do to create the world in Hyper-Reality?

Hyper-Reality covers a lot of ground in 6 minutes. There are the story elements, but also all of the background detail, and then the actual workings of the interfaces, so I had to bring together many different strands of expertise. Research is so embedded in the process of making the film that I actually describe Hyper-Reality as a ‘design research’ project.

The world in the film feels really credible. Could you talk about what was important to you in terms of the look when you were planning it?

I’m really glad you thought so! We see a lot of science fiction that is based around ideas from a hundred years ago; flying cars, skyscrapers, robots etc. I wanted to make something that looked at the way we use technology today. That means building scenes around familiar situations, that everyone understands, but we don’t tend to talk about so much. This film is shot from the perspective of Juliana, who has her own view of the world, but the next one will be seen through the eyes of a different character, with a different set of hopes, dreams and frustrations. I hope it will be credible in a totally different way to the first one.

The world is simultaneously frightening and yet there are aspects that are attractive. The dog, for example, is pretty cute. Could you tell me a bit more about why you introduced it?

Thematically, the film talks about consumer capitalism as a belief system, and the ultimate symbol of that is the supermarket. But in the future, how could supermarket chains convince people to come to their stores, instead of getting everything delivered? The little dog (his name is Rexito) is a kind of virtual pet that lives in the supermarket. If you become emotionally attached, you can visit him and look after him by buying real products. All physical items come with virtual rewards; food, shampoo or medicine that can keep Rexito healthy and happy. He might also beg you to buy premium items, that come with premium rewards. I think its sinister the way many marketing techniques now leverage our emotional and addiction-based responses, and I wanted that to be present in the film. Somehow the cuteness makes it even more scary to me.

What impression did you want viewers to be left with after watching the film?

I want Hyper-Reality to be a tool, that people can use to think about and discuss the future. By gaining some distance, I hope people will become more aware of the role of technology in their lives.

Are there any details or easter eggs that we may have missed?

There are lots! Skillbard, who did the sound and music, made the fruit in the supermarket sing to you. So if you listen carefully, you can hear the coconuts and mangoes singing along to the background music.

 

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Kaiichi Matsuda Hyper-Reality

 

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