Written by: Kogonada
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja
Family units have a typical structure that includes the caregivers and those being cared for. With time what gets seen as the typical begins to evolve and the future where After Yang takes place allows for a bionic family member that can provide the same level of love as any human. With its loving collection of memories and overall beauty, this film makes the case for the difficulty of loss and how much it can cause pain in those who loved them.
In order to make their adopted daughter feel more integrated into the family unit, Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) purchased a robotic brother named Yang (Justin H. Min) for her. After he unexpectedly shut down, for the sake of their daughter’s connection with Yang, Jake tries to find a way to bring him back to life with minimal hope.
Kogonada has proven to be such a fascinating filmmaker in how he approaches his films. He takes on deeply emotional stories but crafts them in a way that almost keeps us at an arms-length at times. His distinctive, measured, and calculated style at times can zap the emotion out of a scene when another director would truly dive into the emotional weight of what occurs. This observation does not serve as a criticism but rather a fascination with how he navigates these deeply emotional topics but almost goes about them in such a different way that makes him such a unique filmmaker. He did something similar with his debut, Columbus to tremendous results and he does not disappoint once again.
In this feature, he delves into what it means to lose someone and what it means to finally break the tether that individual has in your life as well as for others. When it comes to humans it feels insensitive to say that but when it comes to a robotic family member that carries the same importance, the immediate reaction by many proved to be to just throw him away. Something that may be easy for some but evidently proves to be incredibly difficult for Jake and his family. That comes from viewing Yang as more than just a robot but a being that has felt, loved and lost and the revelations this film later displays in terms of his memories make it all that much clearer. It makes me think of a future where these robots could look just like us and where we begin to draw the line of where we separate from them. Yang may not be human, but he certainly leaves a profound effect on everyone else even if he’s just a robot.
Jake’s journey in trying to revive him brings us deeper into this future where you see the maintenance of these robots and what it means to let go of one and let it decompose. It comes with part of the mourning process, but he refuses to let go even when others will not due to the connection he and his family had with him. Spending this much time with Yang in a vegetative state allows Jake to learn more about he operates, which eventually leads to him discerning how one accesses the memories and allows for some beautiful sequences.
With the precision mentioned earlier Kogonada certainly takes a step up in this feature compared to his first, which mostly focused on architecture. This time, he creates an entire world and flexes his muscles in a different way. He creates something more vibrant and colorful to express the type of world these characters reside in and it allows for a deeper exploration of the surroundings. Also, it must be said, the family dance sequence towards the very beginning of the film, alone, is worth the price of admission. Major props to all involved in putting it together and also adding texture to the world and the family structure in these competitive games.
After Yang comes full of beautiful moments that remain subdued to a point for some where they fail to connect with it in the way they want. Kogonada proves he operates in his own style and it allows for so many moments that touch on connection and love. From tapping into the memories to a simple conversation about tea, this film moves at its own pace. It certainly has the makings of a film that would wreck me emotionally, which gets tempered by Kogonada’s style but what we receive is still something with celebrating for what it accomplishes in its own way.