Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 36 minutes, Director – Kogonada
When the AI sibling (Justin H. Min) bought for his adopted daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) malfunctions Jake (Colin Farrell) discovers more about the human-like robot’s life as he searches for ways to fix him.
Sci-fi has long been used as a way to reflect upon our world as it is now. Looking at the distant future somehow often allows us to think about ourselves at the moment. Writer-director Kogonada’s After Yang gently uses this idea to push forward its well-observed ideas about connections and relationships of different forms.
We follow parents Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) as they try to find a way to fix the malfunctioned AI sibling they purchased for their young, adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) to better connect to her Chinese heritage. While there’s the potential for this event to allow for the pair to better connect with their daughter after having potentially become too reliant on human-like Yang (Justin H. Min) we gradually learn more about their own relationships to him and the connections that they formed with the second-hand purchase. While the film’s narrative focuses on Jake searching for ways to fix Yang it’s the discoveries made along the way, such as memory files, which act as the true focus and source of interest.
We see flashbacks to conversations and quiet moments of bonding amongst the family and their different relationships with Yang. A scene set in the garden between Mika and her friend (whose dialogue briefly reminds us every now and then that he’s a robot) sees her discussing her familial ties and who her real family is. Such moments are so sensitively dealt with that they seem to lift up with ease and simply wrap you into the scene along with the characters, caught up with the themes and the points which are being discussed with such care and compassion. Helped by a set of great central performances – particularly Farrell who leads the film with a sense of unspoken grief – you’re engaged in the film from the opening stages, including a much louder, and highly discussed, synchronised dance competition sequence backing the opening credits.
From such a moment there’s interest in where the film is going to go and what it’s going to do. Knowing very little about it brings a slight sense of surprise as the true course takes shape. An admiration for the restraint and thoughtfulness that it displays towards the characters and the emotional situation they find themselves in. Naturally showing their past connections and they way they interact, and to some extent re-connect in the face of Yang’s breaking down. All of this is given time by Kogonada to pan out over the course of the short 96 minute run-time. Never feeling cramped or overstuffed there’s an element of interest and intrigue when it comes to some of the revelations about Yang’s own perspective and the way in which he viewed relationships, shown not just in flashbacks from Yang’s own point-of-view but also in Min’s performance when talking to his character’s adoptive family.
The time given is emphasised through the quietness of the film. A number of scenes and conversations are set to what feels like silence. However, even moments backed by Aska Matsumiya’s effectively stripped-back feeling score (the film’s theme composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto) have an added layer of poignancy and emotion to them, the score seemingly working hand-in-hand with the film. Perhaps much like the relationships and connections depicted in the film After Yang feels like a finely-tuned set of collaborations. Each element working well with the others to allow the characters space and time to show their thoughts and emotions, sometimes in flashbacks, sometimes without saying much, or anything, at all. Quiet grief, reflection, thoughts and bonds are put on display from a screenplay which understands its focuses and weaves them into the narrative which gradually pans out amongst them. All within the lightly-reminded near-future setting which adds further detail to the story and the emotional arcs and relationships of the characters themselves.
After Yang is a quiet and thoughtful reflection on both familial and emotional relationships and bonds. Complimented by its near-future leanings and an excellent cast, the characters are given time and space and the film is all the more effective for it.