After Yang – REVIEW

As we continually creep towards a future lined with uncertainty, it can sometimes be hard to view the future as anything but a steady decline from what we’ve grown accustomed to. One could say its fruitless to wallow in these thoughts, as without the hope that the world will continue to thrive and develop, we may bring ourselves to our end even faster. While the world changes and innovation prospers, it’s sometimes hard to remember that humanity will fall right alongside it, changing outwardly yet seemingly remaining eternally the same at our core. We’ll still have passion, emotion and memories that, at least for right now, completely belong to us and us alone. While technological advancement is already a given, some are more concerned with how the future will shape us as a species and if we can continue to remind ourselves what it means to be human.

Director Kogonada is a relatively new face to fall under my radar, yet the little I’ve seen from him makes me realize he’s someone who can identify meaning in the littlest details by reading through the lines. Not only that, but his work makes the effort to connect with the human elements that bind us all. In his latest film, Kogonada takes a look into the future to find what the world may hold for us humans and our relationships with each other and the technology we grow increasingly reliant on.

After Yang arrives and leaves quietly, yet its presence is undeniable. Set in a future of technological advancements and dressed in what I can only describe as a “sci-fi cottagecore” aesthetic, the film seeks to find the humanity in all things while reminding us there really is no substitute for genuine human connection. Somehow both ambitious and understated, After Yang manages to be emotionally compelling without grand gestures and grief strickening despite no waterfall of tears. It’s a movie that seeks to enlighten but never look down upon, accepting our possessive desires as part of our culture and realizing what the weight of memories really feels like.

Years from now (how many we don’t know), robots are commercially produced and designed to look and act almost identical to humans. These robots can be be purchased by families for various purposes, and the titular one we are introduced to, Yang (Justin H. Min), is an adoptive sibling meant to offer companionship to a young girl named Mika. Her adoptive parents Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) are burdened one day when Yang unexpectedly shuts down. As Jake works to bring Yang back online, he soon begins to unravel more about Yang’s life before he owned him, including a lifetime of memories that humanizes the automaton more than Jake could ever imagine.

After one of the best opening credit scenes of all time, we are introduced to what could be described as an anti-nuclear family. The lead interatrial couple and their adoptive Chinese daughter offer a glimpse into where the world is heading and where it may eventually end up. Its proof that love creates a bond that transcends backgrounds, cultures and blood. Mika, for as young as she might be, is quick to understand that her parents, though not biological, are everything a parent should be for her. Yet her frustrations with her own identity is palpable, something I’m sure many across the world can recognize. Looking different and having a completely different cultural background is undisputedly alienating, and she even wonders what the point is behind having Yang teach her about her culture. The truth is that it’s our differences that make us unique and who we are, and the erasure of history is highly prevalent for many children finding themselves in lands unfamiliar to them. While it doesn’t delve into these themes too thoroughly, its obvious these moments come from a place close to the director’s heart.

With Yang now inoperable, tea salesman Jake is tasked with getting him fixed. He takes Yang’s body to multiple places; the manufacturer, a shady repairman, and even a museum. It sounds like the process you go through with getting your phone fixed, until you realize that Jake is carrying around a full, humanoid body and having him ripped open and tinkered with. This personification of technology provides a great painting of our reliance on technology in today’s world. Jake and Kyra rely on Yang to teach Mika about her culture and essentially act as an older sibling to her. When Yang powers down, the parents are left to scramble to fill that void. It’s a bit more complicated than a child’s iPad losing power in the middle of a restaurant, as the personification of technology goes beyond this by humanizing Yang through his memories.

Jake eventually gains access to Yang’s memories, tapping into an entire lifetime of remembrance that only furthers to humanize the robot. Quick glimpses of longing awareness and entire relationships are all captured for Jake to see, much like how the rise of smartphones and social medias have managed to bottle the past for others to experience. When people pass on, we’re typically left with nothing but these memories, but to see Jake experience Yang’s actual personal memories take this a step further. It really makes you wonder what the future will hold for our pasts. Will they be as tangible for other as they were for us, and will technology of our own creation be able to share in those experiences? It’s a refreshingly non-pessimistic take on our own advancements that are usually reserved for world ending catastrophes.

To see that this film has a lot to say is an understatement, and its unfortunate that all of the ideas it has don’t get as delved into as the rest of the themes. There’s a significant character that happens to be a clone of a family member, and her presence raises a lot of questions not only over the use of clones in this world, but also the moral grounds of someone potentially showing romantic interest in the clone of a former love. We get little more than passing mentions of this side of futuristic advancement, and I do wish the film could have found room to tie it in heavier to the rest of the film. The film is almost too short for its own good, but I guess you could say its a heck of a takeaway if the only solid criticism I have for the film is that it should have been longer.

After Yang is certainly one of the coziest and quietest sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while, drawing similar cinematic aesthetics from films like Her. In a genre full of spaceship battles, laser swords and bizarre otherworldly creatures, Kogonada never lets you forget that love, identity and the human experience is guaranteed for any future. Soothingly meditative and unashamed to be unjudgmental, it may feel like nothing happens throughout the short runtime, and truthfully it does end a bit abruptly. Yet there’s a lot to think about here while still being a funny and thoughtful time. The future may not be as bright as this, but its nice to think about.

Rating

(out of a possible 5 robot eyeballs)

Gēgē

Gēgē (pronounced “gu-gah”) is a Mandarin term meaning “elder brother” and is lovingly used by Mika as a nickname for Yang. This cocktail is inspired by a discussion that Jake and Yang have at one point in the film over why Jake chose tea as his passion. Jake describes a documentary he once watched about tea, where two men discuss how to properly describe it. One man says there’s no words, but another describes it as walking through a freshly dampened forest.

For this cocktail I tried to capture the essence of that descriptor while also utilizing a nice herbal tea. I settled on jasmine tea for its comforting floral notes, and paired it with a Kettle One grapefruit and rose botanical vodka. The vodka’s floral elements pair nicely with the green tea, and the grapefruit comes in oh so subtly to give a nice little fruity aftertaste. Sweetened with honey and lemon and garnished with a sprig of thyme to add further herbal nasal notes, the Gēgē is a comforting, warming drink best enjoyed wrapped in a blanket, seated by the fire, surrounded by your robot family.

Ingredients

  • 2oz Kettle One Grapefruit and Rose Vodka
  • 1oz Elderflower liqueur
  • 1/2oz Lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp Honey
  • 4oz Jasmine tea

Instructions

  1. In a tempered glass or mug, pour in your freshly brewed jasmine tea.
  2. Stir in the honey.
  3. Add the rest of your ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Garnish with sprig of thyme.

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