MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
After Yang takes place in an alternative world sometime in the near future and spends most of its time with one family – Jake (Farrell), Kyra (Turner-Smith), their adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and Yang (Justin H. Min), the “techno sapien” android purchased to be a guardian to Mika and also her tutor about her culture, full of “fun facts” about China.
The story is initially seen primarily through the point of view of Jake who owns a prestige tea shop. When he is minding the store and Kyra goes off to work for a corporation, Mika is placed in the trusting care of Yang.
In the delightful opening credit scene, the family is online and participating in a real time Dance Dance Revolution style competition full of fast-paced and ever-changing synchronized choreography; it’s a wedding dance gone amuck. When the family finally gets eliminated in the final round, Yang does not stop dancing. He is malfunctioning and needs to be repaired.
It's Jake job to find a place that can do the service work. This initially does not seem to be a problem. Yang was purchased as a “certified refurbished” unit from Brothers and Sisters and came with a warranty. These early scenes are filled with gentle parody about consumerism and service contracts but then move into a deadly serious mode when time becomes crucial – the human part of Yang will decompose if he is not fixed soon. As Jake takes time off from work to travel through town in self-driving cars, Mika goes to school filled with sadness and anxiety while Kyra begins to ponder their marriage in which the busyness of life has gotten in the way of family intimacy.
Slowly a pathway to renovating Yang seems to appear, but a full restoration may not be possible. A technology museum specialist (Sarita Choudhury) is able to remove Yang’s memory bank and Jake is able to view the short videos that the android has recorded over the years. He discovers layers of memory that reveal Yang’s capacity for beauty and – perhaps – even love.
Korean-born writer-director Kogonada first became known through his series of short YouTube video essays that highlighted the visual styles of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. His first film was 2017’s Columbus, a gentle film that juxtaposed a story of grief and loss against the stunning architecture of Columbus, Indiana. His movies are quiet and visually stunning, rewarding multiple viewings.
I was not initially on board with After Yang when I first saw it. I wanted the film to tell me more about its characters and the world in which they live. I wanted to know more about why some technologies in this future world are advanced and others absent.
Now that I have viewed the movie three times, I am convinced that After Yang wants these questions to remain unanswered. The film functions as a beautiful poem. In just 90 minutes, this movie opens up thoughts and feelings about grief and loss, parenting, humanity, cultural appropriation, community, beauty and mortality.
After Yang was initially released as part of the Showtime network, but it is finally available for DVD and steaming rental. It is one of the best films of the year and confirms that Kogonada is one of our finest filmmakers.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A quiet, thoughtful meditation on the beauty of being human.
One pitchfork: Some mild swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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