Tokyo is one of the most iconic cities on the planet. The various regions form an origami of districts weaving temples and skyscrapers, tradition and high-tech, conformity and counter-culture. Putting the city in the spotlight amidst this years’ Olympic Games, Tokyo Origami is a free VR miniseries collection of seven short episodes (with an eighth and final episode coming soon) that each depict a different facet of life in Tokyo. And it’s now available for viewing in Oculus TV on the Oculus Quest Platform.
Following the previous release of the first three episodes in the series, Cosm Studios is back today to debut four additional entries with one more on the way soon. This will complete the eight-part collection, totaling approximately 40 minutes.
The full list of episodes covers a wide-range of topics and people, you can watch them on Oculus TV right now.
To get more details and insight into the creation and inspiration for Tokyo Origami, we spoke with several members of the team at Cosm that worked on the project.
What was innovative or especially unique and groundbreaking about this project?
Fabrice Lorenceau, VP Live Production and Video Technology: With this project, we aimed to create peak quality immersive content that would show iconic slices of life in Japan. Our goal was to find authentic characters that would show the richness of Japan's scenery while at the same time contrasting with the country’s cultural identity. We wanted to show both stories about traditional Japan such as its cuisine, religion, and martial arts alongside the diverse urban and natural landscapes. However, we also wanted to capture the lesser-known sides of the country—from Otaku culture to tattoos and taboos, the rise of breakdancing, and the evolving role of career women.
We performed extensive R&D and created an innovative technique for stabilizing a heavy VR camera on a self-propelled motion platform to film high-res shots with camera motion. This lets audiences experience a smooth walk with featured talent through each narrative. In addition, high-end VR cameras were flown with heavy lift drones to reveal the stunning landscapes of Japan.
How has the reception been regarding the first three episodes?
Robin Sip, Writer and Director: Almost everyone in Japan who donned a headset to see a preview of the episodes responded with “sugoi ne” which means “amazing, isn’t it?”. We were able to show the final cut of “From Fishmarket to Sushi” to the sushi chef and his sons, and they were full of joy to see their work and hear each other’s statements on screen. The chef said he was going to get an Oculus headset and show the episode to his customers.
Neil Carty, Executive Producer, Head of Cosm Studios: The response from audiences so far has been incredible. People have really loved the immersivity, imagery and unique perspective each episode has provided into daily life in Tokyo.
Tell us a little about the technical side of Tokyo Origami. What cameras were used? How was it produced?
FL: For this project, we decided to use the Insta360 Titan to film in 3D-360° using 8K and 10K resolutions. The Titan is designed to advance the field of immersive capture, although it's still a novel field and we expect continued innovation there. 3D combined with 360° is demanding technically, and there are numerous pitfalls filmmakers need to be aware of. For example, 8K on this camera allowed us to get a better stitch, especially in stereoscopic which became preferable to 10K. Nadir and zenith require a lot of attention during production and clean up in post. Camera movement required a lot of machinery and demanded perfect shots with subtlety to maintain viewer comfort. The collaboration with Eric Cheng and his team around artistic and technical guidance was critical to align with Oculus’s high standards in delivering incredible immersive content to audiences.
What makes Tokyo Origami special?
RS: Japan is an amazing place to visit in person but not accessible by the masses. Coupled with the restrictions resulting from COVID-19, the Olympic Games weren’t accessible in the same way as years past, so many fans lacked the ability to experience the places, culture, and people of the hosting country. Tokyo Origami allowed us to provide audiences the opportunity to transport themselves there to experience it for themselves. The medium of VR is unique in that it also allows us to bring people inside the intimate stories of the Japanese people, for Westerners but also Japanese natives who will be proud to see these slices of life well represented on a global stage.
How did you go about selecting your subjects for each episode?
RS: It was a team effort where more subjects were discussed than was possible to film. We aimed to involve a diverse cast and focused on real people with real skills and stories. Besides that, we looked for settings where stories could transport us to the beauty of Japan as a backdrop in 360 video.
Which of the episodes are your favorite and why?
Kaori Ikeda, Japan Crew, Producer: The “Sushi” episode, because Kan-san (the sushi chef) not only makes amazing sushi but is such a wonderful person, a trait he has passed on to his sons. I think that shows through in the episode. And “Breakdancing”, because of the incredible cast, and the dancing, obviously!
NC: Each of these episodes is special in its own way but if I were to pick a favorite it would have to be “Breakdancing.” With the sport making its Olympic debut in 2024, it was an honor for our team to capture these young athletes in their element, to see the community they’ve built with one another and experience the beginnings of their journey towards winning gold.
RS: The story of the Otaku Fujita takes you in a certain direction where you think you know what the episode is about, but then suddenly it takes an unexpected turn. Fujita himself is a very special person and it was because of his willingness to tell his story on camera that the episode exists at all. I hope that some people who have been through some tough moments in life themselves can get some hope and comfort out of watching this episode.
How does Tokyo Origami bring to life pieces of Japanese life?
RS: We are physically placing the viewer into the actual location where memorable moments of Japanese society happen. We’re standing right next to a tattoo artist as he completes a Shinto fox tattoo on the arm of one of his customers. We’re at the fish market in Tokyo at 4:00 am when a 160 kg tuna gets sliced up, and we follow that fish as it gets prepared by the chef and served in a traditional Japanese sushi bar. We experience the first steps of a young boy as he begins learning the art of Karate as he trains in Okinawa. Experiencing this in VR will be the closest thing audiences will have to experiencing it for themselves.
Now that the Olympics have concluded, what do you wish you could have done differently?
RS: We wish that we could have worked under normal circumstances, without being under a state of emergency, which made it very difficult to secure film permits. Dealing with the rainy season throughout the entire shoot was also challenging. Having said that, it will be difficult for viewers to realize the limitations we had during filming, as in the end no concessions were made and all the shots that we envisioned made it into the final episodes.
What role do you think VR will play in the future of tourism and cultural awareness education?
KI: I think the pandemic has changed our world for good and we will not be able to fully return to the world as we once knew it. While people will inevitably start traveling again, I think VR will become a great alternative to physical travel. Same for cultural awareness education—I think VR allows experiences unique to the medium that you can't get from conventional films and video.
RS: VR has enormous potential in cultural awareness education, and it feels like it was created for just that purpose. With the quality and price performance of current VR headsets, I think the time has come to bring the world together and learn to appreciate diverse cultures.
NC: In addition to the ability of VR to take us to hard-to-reach travel destinations featuring incredible vantage points, I hope we’ve shown its power to also transport us inside the culture itself through the eyes of local storytellers.
After watching the entire series, what is the one thing you hope people can take away from the project and why?
NC: Our team took great care in representing a diverse and eclectic mix of voices and talent. My hope is that ‘Tokyo Origami’ allowed people to experience Japan and its people in a way they’ve never done before, even if they’ve been there in person.
RS: It is okay to be different, and you must be unique to succeed. This contradicts the image Western people have of Japanese people, for example, of them wearing the same uniforms to school or work. But that is just camouflage—on the inside Japanese people are all very different and their culture has given a grand universal value to humanity.
Tokyo Origami is a timely and insightful VR miniseries collection of immersive media that has something for everyone. You can check out the series right now in Oculus TV on the Quest Platform.