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Hikaru Utada, VR, and You

Has watching a show from your couch ever made you self-conscious?

I attended a Hikaru Utada performance for the first time thanks to the technological wizardry of Playstation VR, and I was not prepared for how intensely personal the experience would be.

I say ‘attended’, because to say that I simply watched Utada Hikaru singing would be a disservice to the sensory involvement delivered by the VR rendition. While there’s no substitute for being physically present at a show, the experience of witnessing the recently released “Hikaru Utada Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018 – ‘Hikari’ & ‘Chikai’ – VR” concert felt shockingly close to it.

I also mean literally close, because the VR rendition accurately conveys the sense that Hikaru Utada is on the verge of entering your personal space while singing to you. Yes, you in particular. It’s a testament to both the technology and her excellence as a performer that they can sell your senses on the idea. She’s right there, locking eyes with you, gesturing to you, crooning to you, making you wish you wore something nicer for this breathtaking lady who’s less than five feet from you.

This isn’t like IMAX or a home theater, where you can bludgeon yourself into a sense of proximity with sheer screen or video size. This is about feeling like you’re at a personal concert, with your eyes and your depth perception convincing you that Hikaru Utada is legitimately in front of you.

You can dig into the technical details on the official Playstation Blog post about the endeavor, where Director Wataru Takeishi talks at length about the methodology and the philosophy behind what they were doing. “The concept was to reproduce ‘Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018’ perfectly,” he says in the post. “For that reason, we made sure everything — including the stages, lighting, direction, and costumes — was exactly the same as the live performances.”

“Hikaru Utada is amazing; the feeling she puts into her songs, her facial expressions when she sings, and her gestures. In virtual reality you can really see the great care singers put into their work and these subtleties of emotion up close,” Chief Producer Yoshimasa Takahashi also explains in the Playstation Blog post. “VR users can experience much more than they would be able to [from] just watching a concert or a music video, since they can see exactly what sort of expression the artist uses when singing certain lyrics.”

The Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018 was Hikaru Utada’s first Japan tour in 12 years, and the VR rendition of two of her songs is an excellent capstone for it. It’s also a point of interest to fans of both Hikaru Utada and videogaming that the two songs selected for the VR rendition, “Hikari” and “Chikai,” are both from the Kingdom Hearts franchise, further enhancing the appeal of what’s already a remarkable technological achievement.

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While “Hikaru Utada Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018 – ‘Hikari’ & ‘Chikai’ – VR” isn’t the first VR concert that’s been created for Playstation VR, it’s the first one meant for global release. There’s no word yet on future VR concerts that the platform might produce, although it would be nice to see past concerts that saw release in Japan become available to the rest of the world.

It’s difficult to convey just how powerful and compelling the attempts at emulating IRL sensory experiences have gotten in today’s tech if you’ve never tried a contemporary VR set, be it Playstation VR or any of the other platforms. That said, if you have the setup for it and have any love at all for live musical performances, “Hikaru Utada Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018 – ‘Hikari’ & ‘Chikai’ – VR” shouldn’t be missed.

“Hikaru Utada Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018 – ‘Hikari’ & ‘Chikai’ – VR” is freely available on the Playstation Store until December 24, 2019.


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