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A crazy J-pop music video is the best Oculus Rift demo yet

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Could music videos be the real killer app for VR?

I've kind of had Oculus Rift fatigue lately. I know that's a silly thing to say about a product that isn't even out yet, and that my line of work puts me in contact with the Facebook-acquired VR headset far more than most people. It's just that, well, without much in the way of actual games to play on the thing, there are only so many tech demos you can sit through and marvel at the accurate head tracking.

Thank God for J-pop, then. Kumi Koda, a singer I haven't thought about since she caused controversy some years ago by urging women to have kids by the age of 35 lest their amniotic fluid rot away, has a music video for her new song, "Dance in the Rain," that's filmed in 360 degrees and viewable in VR. I saw it at Tokyo Designers Week today, and it reminded me why I found the Oculus Rift so cool the first time I used it nearly two years ago.

koda kumi oculus

The problem with talking about cool things on the Oculus Rift is that you can only tell, not show. That said, here's a trailer for the regular "Dance in the Rain" music video that captures a little bit of the frenetic choreography, Yohji Yamamoto fashion design, and futuristic vibe so post-apocalyptic the power lines are shaped like crucifixes.

The Oculus Rift version is a little like this, but everything is floating through the air and flying in front of you. It looks like a Myst level blown into fragments and thrown into a wind tunnel. Sometimes Koda stops the music, circles you so that you move your head, and says something in English before the song restarts. It's all very obvious and tech demo-y, like the conspicuous scenes in Avatar and Gravity where stuff flies into the screen for the benefit of 3D-viewing audiences. It's not really high resolution enough to be truly immersive, even though it's running on the newer Oculus Rift DK2 unit. And the song is, of course, not great.

it's clear to me that passive Oculus Rift experiences will be just as important

But taken in totality, "Dance in the Rain" is pretty amazing. Director Masashi Yokobe, aka YKBX, clearly had a lot of fun making it, and the medium turns out to be the perfect fit for the overwrought futurism of the average J-pop ballad. Between this and another great Rift demo at Tokyo Designers Week from Kohei Nawa, one of Japan's leading contemporary artists, it's clear to me that passive Oculus Rift experiences will be just as important for VR as interactive video games.

Once the Rift is in more people's hands, the race will be on to create music videos, art shows, and — inevitably — ads compelling enough to get you to strap a screen to your face. No wonder Facebook was interested.