Kim Gu-Hyeon, 88, was able to go back to his North Korean hometown thanks to virtual reality. The trip wasn't physical, as Korea is still a strictly divided nation. But it was the next best thing: using advanced mapping technology and two months' worth of interviews with Kim about his specific, detailed recollections of the place, Hyundai Motor Group, South Korea's largest automobile retailer, set up a virtual reality creation of Kim's hometown.
It was a "cozy little village surrounded by mountains", Kim recalls fondly during a two months interview to computer designers. He hasn't been back since he was a much younger man in 1947. Kim is one of 66,000 North Koreans currently living in South Korea – displaced, to this day, by the tumultuous Korean War that cut millions of people off from their families and communities.
Kim's hometown was entirely recreated – including the wild flowers and streets he used to walk every day – in virtual reality thanks to his memories and using automotive design technology and a CGI landscape creation software called Vworld 3D Spatial Information Open Platform.
Hyundai set up a car in the center of a circular screen and Kim sat in the passenger seat, before entering his address in the car's navigation system. Projected on the screen was the illusion of a journey through North Korea, passing borders, the capital Pyongyang, and finally Kim's hometown in the middle of the mountains.
The project, Going Home, which can be seen in its entirety here, is a result of a campaign that was first imagined by Yundai founder Chung Ju-Yung, who died in 2001. On 5 November, Kim was finally able to see his hometown and Hyundai has concluded that the day Korea will be reunified they will help Kim going back to his village for real.
If at first Kim seemed skeptical about the project, he gave in to the experience before being submerged by emotions when virtually reaching his family home. His journey concludes to the site of his parent's graves where Kim took a solemn bow pressing his hands and head all the way to the ground.
"Father," he says. "Forgive me for taking so long to come back home."