After Yang (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Farewell to Yang

I value good films which make me reflect on life and existence, and I am glad to report to you that Kogonada’s latest film “After Yang” is one of such cases. As a simple but undeniably sublime science fiction tale, the movie has a number of quiet but poignant human moments to haunt your mind for a long time, and I am still admiring how Kogonada pulls off that via his thoughtful handling of story and character.

The movie, which is based on Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang”, is set in a near-future world where androids are quite common thanks to considerable technological advance. For their Chinese adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), Jake (Colin Farrell) and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) bought a secondhand android named Yang (Justin H. Min), and Yang has been a good nanny for years while occasionally giving Mika valuable knowledge associated with Chinese heritage. As warmly reflected by the opening scene, he has been more or less than the fourth member of the family, and we subsequently get an unexpectedly spirited moment as they joyously dance together in their house as a part of their daily routine.

However, Yang happens to have a sudden malfunction problem not long after that, and Jake tries to get Yang repaired as soon as possible for his daughter, but it seems there is nothing he can do for fixing Yang. Because Yang is a secondhand product, it is not possible to get any helpful service from the manufacturing corporation, and even an illegal repair shop recommended by one of Jake’s close neighbors cannot help that much as Yang turns out to be a more sophisticated machine than expected. Considering that Yang’s physical status is getting deteriorated day by day, it may be better for him to be donated to a science technology museum where he will be preserved and then analyzed for the better understanding of “techno-sapiens”.

Being well aware of how much his daughter has been emotionally attached to Yang, Jake is naturally reluctant about donating Yang to that science technology museum, but he also becomes quite interested in accessing to whatever has been stored in a hidden memory bank inside Yang. When he subsequently checks Yang’s memory bank, it turns out to contain thousands of recorded private moments from not only his family but also many other people, and, as checking one recorded moment after another, he comes to notice a young woman who seems to be very special for Yang.

While searching for that young woman, Jake also comes to reflect more on how his family lived with Yang, and Kogonada’s adapted screenplay begins to flow freely between their personal memories of Yang and Yang’s recorded moments. Using two different screen ratios, the movie initially draws the line between Yang’s recorded moments and flashback scenes, but both of them come to resonate with each other along the story, and we later get a powerful visual moment when Jake delves further into Yang’s memory bank for getting to know and understand Yang more.

Under Kogonada’s serene but confident direction, the movie steadily engages us as thoughtfully exploring its main subjects without sentimentalizing them at all. While it is moving to see Yang often providing advice and comfort to Jake and his family, he is still basically a machine driven by programs, and he has been always conscious of that, as reflected by a private conversation scene between him and Jake at one point. He surely induces a new professional passion inside Jake as seriously discussing with Jake on how he came to choose his profession, but what exactly he ‘feels’ from that is rather elusive even to himself, and the same thing can be said about his supposedly private relationship with that young woman.

Leisurely rolling from one interesting human moment to another, the movie gradually exudes tranquil qualities to engage and then soothe us. The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb is static but observant thanks to precise camera angle and scene composition, and the resulting meditative atmosphere is gently enhanced by the score by Aska Matsumiya and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The futuristic background details of the film are rather plain and simple on the whole, but they look and feel realistic enough on the screen, and we become more immersed in the world inhabited by its main characters.

The performances from the main cast members are finely tuned to the overall low-key tone of the film. Colin Farrell, who has been one of the most interesting movie actors of our time as demonstrating the wide range of his acting talent, diligently holds the center via his understated acting which feels quite different from his sleezy villain performance in Mat Reeves’ recent Batman movie. Jodie Turner-Smith, who recently drew our attention for her breakout turn in “Queen & Slim” (2019), Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Justin H. Min are equally solid as the other crucial parts of the story, and several other cast members including Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury, and Clifton Collins Jr. also have each own moment to shine.

In conclusion, “After Yang” is another fantastic work from Kogonada, who previously made an impressive feature film debut in “Columbus” (2017). These two films show that he is indeed a talented filmmaker with distinctive personal touches to be admired and appreciated, and I will certainly have some expectation on whatever will come from him next.

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