Kogonada’s follow-up to COLUMBUS is a grief-stricken scifi drama.
In his introduction before the Sundance 2022 screening of After Yang, writer/director Kogonada talked about reading a short story about loss that stayed with him. He adapted that story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang” by Alexander Weinstein, into his second feature film. Parents Jake (Colin Farrell, In Bruges) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith, Queen and Slim) are at a loss when Yang (Justin H. Min, The Umbrella Academy), the android they purchased years ago, enters a shut-down mode and can’t be reawakened. Their child Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) is devastated, as she views Yang as an older sibling and close friend.
Set in a future where computers are something similar to Google Glasses, there are no cars (but underground electric vehicles instead), and clothing is comfy-looking leisurewear made of natural fabrics, in After Yang, Kogonada creates a believable someday. Tech here is less invasive than our own — unless one owns a “technosapiens” who lives with the family. In his dealings with a conspiracy-theorist technician, Jake is told that Yang was designed to preserve a quick moment in time each day. From here on, the film explores the theme of memory.
Yang’s memories are given the full screen treatment, whereas most of the film is in letterbox, with video chats blocked in Academy aspect ratio. These glimpses into Yang become immersive, as a sort of VR experience is simulated for the viewer. The captured moments also appear brighter; other domestic scenes between the family are darkly lit, with faces almost obscured at times. While other long shots and dark scenes tend to keep the viewer at a remove, the android’s memories grab our full attention as we learn more about the thousands of seconds that Yang chose to treasure.
Kogonada’s second film lacks the warmth of Columbus, steeped more in a cold melancholy. Farrell keeps stoic throughout, but he does get to deliver a near spot-on impression of Werner Herzog in a discussion with Yang. Min, as Yang, is a particular standout here, showing up in remembrances by Jake and Kyra and making the most of his limited time on screen. When he tells Kyra, “There’s no something without nothing,” the weight of his declaration is not lost on the viewer. After Yang remains beautiful in its imperfection.