Felix & Paul Studios, among the top VR video production companies out there, today launch their longest film to date on the Oculus Rift and Gear VR. Miyubi transports viewers back to 1982 where they see the world through the eyes of an eponymous Japanese robot toy. The studio may point to the film’s length as its leading achievement, but Miyubi is visually some of the best looking VR film we’ve seen to date, but is that enough to warrant 40 minutes inside?
In the opening scene of Miyubi, you are introduced as a toy robot gifted to a young boy by his father who takes lengthy business trips to Japan. Superimposed around the periphery of your view, you can see a camcorder-like wireframe HUD with a battery indicator on the bottom portion. As you look down, you can see the top of ‘your’ own robot body, which turns out to actually be inserted into the scene in real-time as a piece of real geometry.
Turning your gaze back toward the family from your low vantage point on the floor, you spot the young boy who is excitedly cheering at you, his new toy. Around the scene you’ll also find a young girl, a young teenage boy, a mother and father, and the family’s grandfather in a wheelchair.
For now you are the object of most of the attention in the room, and you’ll watch and listen as the family banters back and forth. You are an observer here, and you’ll experience moments in the life of the family over the months, helpfully split up with transitions that list the new time, date, and maintenance status of your robot components. You’ll watch vignettes built around groups of characters as you see some plot threads beginning to unfold: a father whose work life has him spending too much time and too far away from his family, a young teen on a rebellious streak, and a grandpa who’s slowly going off his rocker.
Visually, Miyubi is among the best VR film we’ve seen to date, and it’s all shot in 360 degrees and 3D. Scale feels correct (taking into account your smaller size as a toy robot), and, there’s no visible stitching lines, and the clarity is superb compared to most of what else is out there. I should clarify, I’m only calling it a “VR film” because it looks so good, and, importantly, because it’s 3D, thereby making it feel much more immersive than the old ‘pixelated sphere around your head’ 360 video shot on a GoPro rig. Felix & Studios have set an important visual bar in Miyubi, one that we’d love to see achieved by all other VR video content.
But what of the content, and the 40 minute runtime? The length of Miyubi is something of an experiment. In the early days of 360 video production, it was common to see pieces of three to five minutes, though over time that’s steadily lengthened to typical 360 video experiences in the 10 minute range. When it came to doing a longer production, the hypothesis was that people wouldn’t be comfortable sitting in the headset for that long. On that point, Miyubi proves the experiment success—I didn’t mind watching the film unfold over the course of one sitting, nor was I uncomfortable, though if the visuals weren’t as good I’m not sure I would be saying the same thing.
But time doesn’t make a story, and there is Miyubi’s greatest weakness. The film simply wasn’t compelling—I might have felt comfortable enough in the headset for 40 minutes, but I don’t feel that my time was well-spent—though this probably comes down to the writing much more than it does the technology.
Co-produced by Funny or Die, Miyubi has been described as a “comedy,” but I found almost nothing to laugh at. And if not a comedy, the film is just a fleeting glimpse into a struggling family. The boy whom ‘you’ belong to doesn’t really have his own arc, which is odd considering how much time you spend with him throughout. Of the characters that do have an arc, none of them are particularly interesting, nor do they resolve their struggles in a satisfying way. Even ‘your’ own role in the story as the toy robot is diminished over time, and eventually the film awkwardly leaves you with one of the least interesting characters.
Though Miyubi’s story doesn’t justify the lengthy runtime, the production values come close. You’ll see scenes in several different rooms in the family’s home, and one inside of a classroom full of children. The decorations, clothing, and furniture effectively sell the ’80s vibe, with sets full of props. Your attention is thoroughly directed throughout, and I never felt like I missed any of the action because I was looking elsewhere.
Despite a lackluster story, Miyubi sets the stage for the sort of quality and production values we’d like to see in longer VR film experiences, something we’d readily welcome, so long as the story is up to par.
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Miyubi launches today for free on the Oculus Rift and Gear VR headsets via the Oculus store. If you want to try your hand at 40 minutes in a VR film, be sure to download rather than stream for the best quality.