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SXSW 2019: The Atomic Tree Tells A Riveting Deep-Rooted Story

As the years go by, and virtual reality becomes more accessible, it also becomes more mainstream. While a lot of people look forward to VR gaming and other interactive experiences, others yearn for immersive experiences that aren’t as interactive. SXSW’s Virtual Cinema area showed off plenty of these experiences this year, and it brought in quite the crowd. Atomic Tree was one of the apps on show.

Directed by Adam Loften and Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee, the film tells the story of a 400 year old bonsai tree in the ancient cedar forests outside of Hiroshima. The tree grew on a property owned by the Yamaki family, who tended the tree for five generations. The U.S. armed forces detonated an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. The blast wiped out a lot of the landscape and claimed innocent lives. Surrounded by the walls of the Yamaki family home, the bonsai tree miraculously survived.

The Atomic Tree transition visuals
Some of the trippy visuals as you dive into the tree’s rings. Photo provided by The 2050 Group Publicity.

Adapted from the book “The Song of Trees” by David Haskell, The Atomic Tree takes viewers on a journey of crazy Alice in Wonderland type visuals, and a riveting look inside the tree’s history. Fantastic visuals take the viewer on an almost disorientating journey through tree’s rings. Dizzying spirals did exactly what they were supposed to by giving the viewer a sense of intense movement without pushing them completely over the edge. This helped intensify the significance and importance of the tree’s history.

A relaxing, immersive VR cinema experience

What really added to the absorptive experience was the great sound design. Several scenes take you through the Yamaki family home, where you witnessed traditional Buddhist prayer ceremonies. As the sounds of the prayer chants came through the headphones, you could move in a full 360 degrees to see everything around you, and the sound would accurately follow. There was no skip in the audio as you moved, which made the experience that more compelling.

The Atomic Tree Yamaki household
A look at the beautiful Yamaki household. Photo provided by The 2050 Group Publicity.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematic experience. It did a good job of putting me in a relaxing environment and making me forget about my hectic surroundings at Griffin Hall. However, there is a bit of a twist to the story for those who are unfamiliar with it, but I won’t spoil it for you. The Atomic Tree will be available this Friday, March 22nd, across all VR headsets via Within.

The Atomic Tree was demoed on an Oculus Go at SXSW’s Griffin Hall.

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