Fri. Nov 25th, 2022

As a result of Mark Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” video in October, many people’s ears about our digital future were not soothed. His presentation style made it feel like an AI-generated missive from beyond the uncanny valley. The fact that an immersive new online world would be controlled by a corporation with a history of spreading misinformation, collecting data, and disseminating harmful body images was also seen by many as somewhat dystopian.

If we’re worried about the future of the metaverse, it’s possible that our favourite movies are to blame. When it comes to new technologies, Hollywood has never met one it couldn’t make seem terrifying and absurd. Whether it’s the Matrix movies, Tron, or the Terminator franchise, we’ve seen enough to put us off ever going online.

How Belle Depicts the Future as a Psychedelic Wonderland

Belle, the new anime from Mamoru Hosoda, stands out as a welcome diversion in this crowded field. Online abuse, viral gossip, and doxing aren’t ignored by Belle in her discussion of the negative aspects of digital life (publicly revealing personal information). As an alternative to a place of evil and corporate overreach, the online world is presented as a place of refuge and salvation, especially for children and teenagers. It’s a storey about how people’s hidden facets can be revealed or hidden through virtual identities (as the title suggests, there are Beauty and the Beast parallels). When her mother died, Suzu lost her ability to sing, making her a lonely, introverted teen living in rural Japan. Her secret alter ego is a pop goddess with a golden voice and millions of adoring fans when she enters the online world of “U,” however:

Director Hosoda, a mild-mannered man dressed in all black, says there aren’t many directors who have shown the online world in a positive light. “I think I’m a rare, if not the only, example of something like this.” According to him, it was only after the release of Belle that the term “metaverse” entered his vocabulary. He was inspired by the fact that his five-year-old daughter was growing up in a world where smartphones and social media were commonplace. We adults see the internet and think, “This is reality, and that’s not reality,” but for young people, it’s more: “This is the real world and that’s another world.” ” In the same way that your actions online are a part of the real world, so are your actions in the virtual world. That which one creates for themselves in this new world is all that matters.”

In the anime Belle, a couple stands by a lake with a cityscape behind them.

“Beautiful View” straddles the line between’reality’ and a Digital Simulation

The more advanced features of U’s technology are, to put it mildly, science fiction-inspired. Your avatar is generated using “the latest body sharing technology,” which is based on your biometric data. On the other hand, Belle serves as an excellent visual representation of what a fully realised metaverse might look like. In her virtual persona, Suzu sings a pop song on the back of a whale encrusted with speaker cones; it is swimming through a floating city and a giant circuit board. As she sprinkling virtual confetti on a vibrant carnival of avatars, she sends text comments and messages hurtling through the air. Further out in U, you’ll find enormous spherical stadiums, crumbling castles, and sunsets with impossible hues over endless virtual plains. Mark Zuckerberg might want to take a closer look at it.

Anime’s golden era has begun: from Genocidal Organ to Your Name

More than two decades have passed since Hosoda’s first encounters with the digital realm. A short film about an evil virus that consumes data and takes over the internet was one of the first projects he worked on. Studio Ghibli saw enough potential in it to ask him to direct Howl’s Moving Castle in 2001, even though it was aimed solely at children. Nevertheless, he had a disagreement with Hayao Miyazaki, the head of the Ghibli studio, and Hosoda went his own way. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and Mirai, Belle’s Oscar-nominated predecessor, have made him one of Japan’s most successful anime directors.

Prior to Belle, Hosoda’s 2009 film Summer Wars straddled the real and virtual worlds, and was an important inspiration. Half of the storey takes place in a proto-metaverse named Oz, where hacking threatens to destroy the planet. The other half takes place in a teen romcom where the characters meet their parents. Oz, like Belle’s U, is a visually stunning virtual world, this time created by celebrated artist Takashi Murakami in a clean, white pop-art style with rainbow-colored graphics and characters. Architect and illustrator Eric Wong, who is currently based in London, was hired by Hosoda to help design Belle’s metaverse. In an email to Wong, Hosoda claims to have seen some of his incredibly detailed fantasy cityscapes on the internet and to have sent them to him out of the blue. “I guess it’s fitting that it all happened online.” Unlike Summer Wars’ metaverse, Belle’s U is a linear city made up of geometric skyscraper-like forms, rather than a giant totem pole. New York City, Central Park, and Kubrick’s 2001 were just some of the places Wong drew inspiration from when he worked nights and weekends between his full-time job and school.

At least Hollywood has tried a few times to depict an online realm other than a hellish wasteland. Tron, Steven Lisberger’s 1982 film, is still a pioneering work. It gave the impression of a 1980s nightclub in cyberspace with its endless black expanses, angular geometries, and neon accents (the 2010 sequel, Tron: Legacy, doubled down by hiring Daft Punk as DJs). This year’s Ready Player One by Steven Spielberg focuses on a virtual world called “the Oasis” that is the focus of the film’s plot. It looks like a mashup of real-world and video game landscapes, which is probably closer to what the metaverses of big tech will actually look like. It’s important to note that Ready Player One takes place in 2045, when the world is wracked by famine, war, and ecological collapse. According to the film’s protagonist, “Reality is a bummer these days; everyone is looking for a way to escape.”

Summer Wars and Belle, for all their futurism, contrast their online communities with the real-world ones of friends, family, and neighbours. On the basis of a real village in Kchi prefecture, Belle’s location has been painstakingly recreated. As Hosoda points out, while digital populations are soaring, rural communities are dwindling in real life. It’s happening in Japan, and it may be happening in the United Kingdom as well.” There is a new online world and a disappearing community at the same time.”

A common theme in Hosoda’s work is that of people being torn between two worlds and two identities, whether that be due to magical or time travel effects. His heroes, and Belle is no exception, must always find a way to bridge this chasm. The story’s central characters can only move forward if they close the gap between their online and offline personas. Hosoda’s films, on the other hand, appear to blur the line between fantasy and reality. It’s a topic that becomes increasingly relevant in light of our looming metaverse future. According to him, “I believe that things made for films can have an impact on the real world.” Predicting the future through science fiction films and novels is an important part of the genre’s mission. Imagination is a catalyst for the real world.

By Adam

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