AFTER YANG, Deep meditation on loss, grief, family
To say that there are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe After Yangwriter-director Kogonada’s (Columbus) a minimalist, lo-fi sci-fi fable that explores the myriad connections between identity, memory, and technology, may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not hyperbole if true.
After Yang deserves all the superlatives and all the accolades it ultimately receives. (It previously received the 2022 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Award from the Sundance Film Festival.) Not only After Yang confirms Kogonada as one of the finest filmmakers working today, but also elevates him to the top tier of world-class filmmakers (again, no more hyperbole, etc.).
Loosely adapted from Alexander Weinstein (New World Children, universal love) short story, “Goodbye to Yang,” After Yang centers on a futuristic multi-ethnic and multi-racial family, Jake (Colin Farrell), owner of a tea shop; Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), Jake’s wife and a successful professional; Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), their adopted daughter of Chinese descent; and the titular character, Yang (Justin H. Min), an android/AI purchased as Mika’s primary caregiver, friend, and surrogate brother. Created specifically for kids like Mika, Yang helps connect Mika to his cultural roots, partly through “fun Chinese facts,” but also through a nature-focused worldview.
In After Yang lightest and funniest moment, the family participates in a dance against 30,000 other families via an invisible video connection. While an off-screen voice leads the families through intricate and coordinated dance moves, the off-screen voice disqualifies any families that are out of sync. The Jake-Kyra-Mika-Yang family eventually falters, but not before going through several towers.
The scene also functions as the example of family structure in the microcosm – collectively they can be successful, individually they cannot – and also serves as the last moment they are together. Almost immediately, Yang malfunctions, falling into some sort of suspended animation. With Mika understandably heartbroken, Jake shifts into action mode, first ferrying Yang to the used robotics store, Second Siblings, where he purchased Yang as “certified refurbished” and when that fails, under the auspices of no completely legal of a me. – Employed tech repairman and conspiracy theorist, Russ (Ritchie Coster).
Where Russ fumes and raves about corporate surveillance and capitalist control, Jake takes a more agnostic view, hoping against hope to restore Yang to Mika and thus bring their family back to equilibrium or balance. A sort of mind tour ensues, with Jake, Yang literally in hand, venturing to the Museum of Technology, and a lead curator, Cleo (Sarita Choudhury), helping Jake recover Yang’s memories via the disk. hard. It’s there, with Jake reliving key moments in Yang’s life, essentially seeing and hearing through Yang’s memories of his interactions with Jake, Kyra, and Mika (among others) that After Yang reaches its peak and its depth.
The idea of reliving someone else’s memories is of course not new (see, for example, Strange days, until the end of the world) or an Android assistant evolving into something beyond its programming (bicentenary man), but it’s often not the idea, or just the idea, but what a filmmaker does with that idea or ideas. Here, Kogonada not only digs deep, exploring the connections between memory, identity and technology, but goes further by placing this exploration in a specific and specifically relatable context: a family unexpectedly learning to mourn what a member she initially considered less than human, but in fact lived, loved and quietly existed as fully human.
It is this awareness, gained through observing Yang’s first-person memories, that forms the core of Jake’s journey, and with it, an understanding of the magnitude of the loss that Mika has suffered and in turn helps her recognize the need to reconnect with Mika. like his father. The other characters experience similar parallel journeys of reconnection and healing.
Paradoxically, given our current overreliance on technology, Kogonada posits a different and much more positive relationship with technology. Instead of separating us or superficially connecting us, technology can connect us at the most fundamental level.
After Yang Premiering Friday, January 21 at Sundance Film Festival.
- alexander weinstein
- Colin Farrel
- Jodie TurnerSmith
- Justin H. Min