Kogonada’s dazzling debut feature Columbus was a Sundance hit back in 2017. His composition of striking images, coupled with career best work from John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson made the movie among the year’s best. So it was no surprise that once his next project was announced, I booked it on my calendar. That project is After Yang. Kogonada’s latest premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year and has now made its way to virtual Sundance in 2022. The film is one of the very best playing at the festival. After Yang is a wonderful meditation on loss, family and in true sci-fi fashion, what it means to be human.
After Yang centers on a family in the future who deals with the loss of its family android, Yang. In particular, the loss most effects a young girl, Mika, who formed a special relationship with Yang. Mika’s father Jake, played by a sublime Colin Farrell, seeks out a solution to bring Yang back. Through Yang’s memories, Jake discovers that he may have been taking life for granted. A fact maybe echoed within the subtle strife Jake experiences with his wife Kyra, played by Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim).
The performances are wonderful with Farrell being the stand out here. Jake begins the film only seeking to make his daughter happy. Though it’s clear Yang wasn’t just an android that lived in their home, Jake’s relationship to Yang maybe isn’t what he wished it would be. The preciousness of life catches up to Jake, and Farrell gives a restrained but tender performance that works with the films tone to very emotional results. It becomes clear that through Jake’s mourning, perhaps he viewed Yang more as a son than he ever realized. The movie’s powerful look at loss is very effective and the journey works so well because the connection we feel to the characters.
One of Kogonada’s biggest strengths as a filmmaker through two films is his visual compositions. In Columbus, he uses the backdrop of Columbus, Indiana, a city that is home to some stunning modern architecture. In After Yang, the futuristic sci-fi production design is also a star of the film. The visual focus is on the uniqueness and great design of the structures the characters inhabit. While rarely moving the camera, Kogonada’s ability to let a scene breathe, and capture the natural beauty of the world is admirable. It’s also emotionally effective. Be it static interior shots of the films futuristic home, or lovely shots of nature, the visuals are always arresting. The movie pauses to explore natural beauty often, and is set to a wonderful piano score from ASKA. The score wonderfully accents the films emotion
After Yang may have all the trappings of a meditative, slow sci-fi film. But Kogonada’s direction, the performances and the pacing all make for a film that far exceeds the genre. It is emotional without ever being mawkish. It is pondering life without feeling pretentious. The movie has its own sci-fi vocabulary but it doesn’t need several scenes of exposition to explain its complicated McGuffin’s. It’s visual language, particularly the scenes where Jake dives into Yang’s memories, is maybe the only piece that doesn’t feel all that unique. Even still, the emotional moments of these scenes far outweigh any tropes it may succumb too. After Yang is yet another remarkable achievement for Kogonada, and sure to be one of the year’s best films.
Note: After Yang screened at the 2022 Sundance film festival and is being distributed by A24 with a 2022 release date still not announced.