AI-restored video opens a hyper-realistic window to the Japan of a century ago.

Logically, we understand that people in the past were just as alive and active as we are today. Still, that sense is unavoidably dulled when looking at film from bygone eras. Gray-scale color, blurred focus, and movement that’s unnaturally sluggish or jerky all combine to make those glimpses into the past feel a little less real.

The opposite holds true too, though. Video restoration, machine learning specialist, and YouTube user Denis Shiryaev recently worked his digital magic on a series of film sequences shot in Tokyo between 1913 and 1915 that give us a much closer approximation of what the city looked like to the human eye of the time, and the result turns ordinary street scenes into a video overflowing with hyper-realism.

Shiryaev’s upgrades to the original film include a conversion to 60-frame-per-second movement and removing scratches, flickers, and other visual “noise.” AI neural network approximation processes then added color and facial feature restorations to create the sharp, smoothly moving images in the video.

Classic kimono and billowy hakama pants make up the majority of the Tokyoites’ fashions, and the gigantic framework shop a windchime merchant can be seen shouldering is another sign that this is the Japan of more than a century ago. Another mark of the times comes as numerous passers-by stop and stare in surprise right at the camera’s lens, since such technology was still a modern marvel in those days.

With Tokyo’s urban landscape having gone through multiple generations of change since the original film was shot, it’s hard to pick out exact locations, but the video clearly ends up at Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa neighborhood, which continues to be one of the most popular travel destinations in the city.

▼ The black-and-white version of the video (which has also had some video restoration work done and ambient sound added)

What makes the video especially fascinating is that it isn’t a showcase of high-ranking dignitaries or epoch-making events. Instead, it’s an honest glimpse at the people and lifestyles that define an era in quieter ways, and watching it has us not only thinking about the past, but wondering if any of our antics will end up being featured in the backgrounds of what the future of a hundred years from now sees as historical records.

Source: YouTube/Denis Shiryaev via Japaaan
Images: YouTube/Denis Shiryaev
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