Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Tokyo Heidi (4½ Stars)

"Tokyo Heidi" is one of the most original films of the year, pushing the boundaries of the audience's powers of imagination.

The film begins with a Japanese girl called Ryuko. At a cosplay festival she meets Marcus, a Swiss businessman who is in Japan to find investors for a revolutionary new video game. The player's consciousness is downloaded into his game box, referred to unglamorously as a Glotz, and he enters a dream-like state in which he can live out an adventure based on his memories and imagination. Like a normal dream, time runs faster, so he can enjoy several months of game play within a few hours. Not just that, the boxes are networked together, so every player is living in the same world, interacting with one another. I'm in your dream and you're in mine, and we're surrounded by the non-player characters, the figments of one another's imagination.

Marcus and Ryuko marry, and they have a son called Walterli. The game development continues. Marcus begins to have ethical doubts about his game. Test subjects are found to be disoriented when they wake up from playing. After spending months in the game they're unable to tell the difference between the game and reality. Apart from that, his colleagues want to permanently download the consciousness of each player into the network. This has obvious advantages, such as a faster start-up time on the next usage, and it improves the gameplay for other users, because when a person logs out others can continue to interact with him.

Unable to cope, Marcus kills himself. Ryuko inherits the company, but she accepts an offer to sell it to a Chinese company for 900 million Euros. She begins to think she's done the wrong thing. She enters the Glotz to speak to her husband, because his consciousness is still alive within the network. He explains to her that she can destroy the game from inside by attacking the central headquarters where his consciousness is stored. That would be easier for her if Walterli weren't also with her, because he's being attacked by an evil version of herself.

This summary might sound like the complete plot, but it's only the first 15 minutes of the film. "Tokyo Heidi" would be exciting if it were only a battle within a dream world, but there are mind-bending plot twists as the film continues. After watching it in the cinema today my first thought was, "Wow! I have to see it again". So much happened in the film that it's difficult to process it all in a single viewing.

"Tokyo Heidi" is a German film, but a lot of the dialog is in Japanese. It highlights the possibilities and the dangers of virtual reality. As is typical for German films, the viewer is expected to take something with him that he can use in his normal life.

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