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Illustration by Tricia Lim

Augmented reality app from Joy Kogawa tells story of Japanese internment

By Troy Hasselman, March 13 2019 —

East of the Rockies, an augmented reality app from acclaimed author and Order of Canada recipient Joy Kogawa in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada and development company Jam3, has been released on the Apple App Store.

The app uses stunning animated visuals, ethereal music and a smooth interface to follow the main character Yuki and her family as they navigate the conditions of an internment camp in Slocan, British Columbia and the atmosphere of racism that surrounded Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

“Essentially, it’s three chapters,” says Anne Canute, Kogawa’s grandchild, a creative consultant and voice actor for the project. “The first chapter tell the story of Yuki, the 17-year-old main character, as she adapts to her life in the internment camp in Slocan and trying to cope with that. The second chapter shows her family relocating to a farm in Alberta, which is where the title comes from. The government commanded that all Japanese had to move east of the Rockies after leaving the camps. The third chapter is from the perspective of Yuki’s grandchild who is looking back on her diary after she’s passed and reflecting on the internment and her family’s experience from the standpoint of a millennial.”

Despite being a fictional story, East of the Rockies is inspired by the very real racism and oppression suffered by Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War that has gone often-underreported in our country’s history. The app provides a platform for the stories of these individuals.

“I think that Canada is often held up as this perfect place with a multicultural environment and no history of racism. While there’s a lot of great things about Canada, there’s also problems here that don’t often get covered — especially in our education system,” Canute says. “I didn’t know about the internment camps growing up and I think being able to talk about the bad parts of our history is important to moving forward in a positive way. I think it’s important for people to connect with the past and understand it and how it’s shaped us as individuals and our collective society.”

As well, the story is relevant to today’s social climate with themes of internment and detainment dominating the headlines over the last few years.

“Obviously racism is still a huge issue and that racism has saturated in other communities,” says Canute. “You can see that with issues of immigration, particularly in the States — but also here. I think that speaks to the policies and mindset around the time of the internment that are still prominent and I think that reflecting on that history is beneficial to preventing something like that from happening again.”

Using the relatively new augmented reality technology made the creation of the app a challenging and lengthy — but also rewarding — experience.

“It was quite a long process — I want to say nearly two years,” says Canute. “It was a huge change for my grandma, who wrote the majority of the narrative and had never worked in this medium before. It was kind of adorable to see her amazed by the concept. It was interesting working in new mediums but we were very lucky to have the support of Jam3. Augmented reality is something that they’re quite well-versed in.”

The app is currently available on Apple products with the possibility of developers introducing it to the Android store if it is successful. The app is free It is free until March 15 and can be downloaded here.

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