It was love at first sight with Keisuke Itoh’s Typeman, a gorgeous, fun and meaningful virtual reality work that will make you experience multiple emotions.
There’s an expression in Italian that’s particularly appropriate to describe my experience with Keisuke Itoh’s virtual reality work Typeman, premiering now at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. That expression is “colpo di fulmine,” which would translate to “love at first sight” in English, but which literally means “to be struck by lightning.” This is exactly what happened to me this morning, when I experienced Typeman, as a sentence appeared on the screen, right at the end, and tears started pouring down my face: I was so overwhelmed by what I had just experienced that all these feelings hit me at the same time, as a perfect conclusion to the journey I had just taken.
Typeman is an Oculus project to be experienced by three players at the same time, with an actor joining the performance live from Japan and starring as the titular character – a man in a suit with a typewriter for a head. When it all begins, the players find themselves surrounded by darkness, their white hands floating in the air acting as the only signs of their presence. But then, Typeman appears and we embark on a journey with him, pushing buttons to form words into the air and silently trying to understand him as he reacts to our actions, showing us glimpses of other people’s lives and quietly, gently asking us for help. We don’t really know what Typeman wants, but we try our best to follow his instructions, and, as we do that, something quite extraordinary happens: we become incredibly fond of this fictional character who gets so unbelievably happy whenever he succeeds at doing something and just as deflated when he doesn’t.
His childlike energy is contageous, and a wave of affection hits us when he starts showing us some key objects from his life, such as a gramophone and a radio, until we slowly realise that the music is becoming more and more rhythmical, and ultimately irresistible. At that point, a series of round buttons appear in front of us, and we follow our instinct: we start playing them as if they were drums, and we generate shiny letters and words in several languages as we do that, creating a stunning spectacle of lights that is accompanied to the sound that we also produce, joining the music in the background. Right there and then, we forget we’re watching a Virtual Reality project and we start experiencing it in the moment: suddenly, we’re dancing around and making music, free to do whatever we want but always part of a beautiful, welcoming community that embraces everyone and everything, and we are incredibly happy and liberated.
Until the experience ends, and we’re left with the memory of a fictional character that, in a way, represents a part of us. “I am here,” reads the writing on the screen, and yet he’s not there anymore, because typewriters are a thing of the past: we see them around us, but they’re passive reminders of a time long gone. And yet, this timeworn object made us feel alive, showing us that meaning can be found in the smallest, most insignificant of things if only we remember to be present, and to pay attention to what really matters.
What else is left to say about Typeman? Depending on the experiences you’ve lived, you’ll take something different from this VR work. Some will notice its gorgeous animation and noir-like vibe; others will be more taken by the music, and the experience of it all. But one thing is certain: you’re going to be mesmerized by what Keisuke Itoh has created, and you’re not going to forget it anytime soon.
Typeman can be experienced now at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, as part of the Venice Immersive strand.