After video essayist Kogonada’s extraordinarily beautiful and touching feature-length debut Columbus released five years ago, film fans took note of his undeniable talent. The film’s cinematic brilliance is rooted in real-life conversations, experiences and questions about life’s journey. Now Kogonada is back with his sophomore film effort. Despite the film’s more sci-fi, abstract and contemplative ideas, After Yang hits just as hard as Columbus did. In some ways, it’s even a step forward for him as a director and a writer.
After Yang follows a family whose young daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) faces the loss of her artificially programmed companion Yang (Justin H. Min). The father of the family, Jake (Colin Farrell), goes on a journey to try and repair Yang and in doing so, discovers the life passing by in front of him with Mika and his wife, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith). The film beautifully and effortlessly explores the humanity that the family finds in Yang despite being artificially designed to help teach Mika about her Asian heritage and culture. Yang’s malfunction is not just a plot device—by the end of the film, it hits the audience just as hard as it does the characters.
Like Columbus, one of the strongest aspects of After Yang is the dialogue. Every conversation in the film feels ripped straight out of conversations the audience can imagine happening between the characters. The futuristic world that Kogonada has created here is never given a specific year or time period, which makes it feel extremely timeless. The viewer gets to absorb every detail of the world here and see how it may not be so different from our current times. Despite the abstract visuals seen when Jake views Yang’s memories, or the advanced technology incorporated into the plot, the story itself is rooted in real-life experiences and emotions.
The performances are also a huge standout in the film, giving life to Kogonada’s story and script. Jake’s journey in the film to reconnecting with his family is largely internal, but Farrell’s portrayal of his character allows the audience to understand his emotions, even without dialogue. As he faces the challenge of trying to fix Yang while also realizing the distance he feels from his family, the viewer is taken with him every step of the way. The standout of the film is easily Min, who plays Yang. Min portrays Yang in a perfect way; even though it is clear he is artificially created, his fascination with experiencing life makes him just as human as the rest of the characters.
The best moments in the film are easily the sequences where the audience gets to watch Yang’s past memories. The sequences are beautiful, heart-wrenching and stunning to see unfold with some incredible point-of-view shots. The musical score by Aska Matsumiya also adds so much to the film (and these scenes in particular), often employing quiet and gentle sounds from string and percussion instruments to externalize the feelings of the characters.
Kogonada’s efforts here are a testament to the rare cinematic power of capturing humanity. Many films try to do so and end up falling flat, but After Yang does so in a way that earns tears from the audience. With its exploration of what it means to be human, Kogonada has further put his name out there as a director to watch out for.
Matt Minton is a first-year writing for film, TV and emerging media and writing double major. They can be reached at [email protected].