“Okaeri” is a promotional video for an augmented reality technology produced by the Japanese company Gatebox. The video markets a holographic anime character, Azuma Hikari (“East light”) who “lives” with and “cares” for you. The Japanese Gatebox product, like smart home technologies situated in the West (e.g. Nest, Alexa), is geared toward bourgeois consumers and raises questions about surveillance and digital labor.
Unlike the generic marketing of western “smart” technologies, however, Okaeri is explicitly embodied as female and marketed to upper class men in Japan as a “caring” presence in their daily life. In the promotional video here, as in a variety of short concept films produced by Gatebox (see e.g. Care, Beside, Wait), Azuma Hikari's caring includes waking the young man up, reminding him to attend to his material possessions, sending him encouraging texts throughout the day, and enthusiastically welcoming him home. ("Okaeri" translates to "welcome back.") All films end with Gatebox’s slogan, “living with your favorite character.”
Viewed through a queer, feminist lens, the marketing and consumption of Gatebox’s female “characters” as live-in partners both reproduces and queers heteronormativity. On the one hand, marketing an incessantly cheerful girl with no independent personal interests as a life partner (or “bride”) for young men replicates patriarchal power dynamics. On the other hand, the contemporary phenomena termed digisexuality is redefining traditional notions of sex and marriage.
Critical reflection on westernized reactions to Japanese production and consumption of Gatebox’s augmented domestic reality also requires a decolonial lens. Under the western gaze, the depiction of young Japanese men as, perhaps, desirous of digital brides may too readily give rise to already latent western stereotypes of Japanese peoples as inhuman. In a fusion of old Orientalist stereotypes of the morally dangerous Asiatic “Other” and contemporary moral panic in the west engendered by Japan’s technological prowess, fear and repulsion projected on the consumption of Gatebox products reveal techno-orientalist tendencies.
In an era of rapidly accelerating technological change under late stage capitalism, it is necessary to critically reflect upon both the new social forms of care that technological regimes foster, and the Othering prejudices our encounters with them may reinforce.