Androids. Memories. Loss. Death. All of these elements are wrapped together in Kogonada’s sophomore film. After Yang premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Adapted from Alexander Weinstein’s “Saying Goodbye to Yang”, the movie is set in the future where humans purchase artificially intelligent androids as older siblings for adopted children. This futuristic world has many Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asian influences. The most important part of the movie is that the androids are “technosapiens”. Technosapiens are created to teach adopted children their cultural heritage.
The movie begins with a flashy sequence of different families competing in a dance competition. Jake (Colin Farrell), Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and her older brother/family android Yang (Justin H. Min) compete. Unfortunately, Yang stops functioning and they are eliminated. Kyra tells Jake to repair Yang before Mika gets upset because the younger sibling depends on him for everything. Because Yang’s warranty is over, Jake takes him to an unauthorized conspiracy-minded repairman, Russ (Ritchie Coster). Russ is convinced that Yang has malicious spyware embedded in his system. Instead of repairing Yang, Russ guides Jake to a museum curator Cleo (Sarita Choudhury). Cleo reveals there are memories stored inside his database. Back home, Jake watches Yang’s memories and reflects on his relationship with his family. As he digs deeper, Yang’s memories make him realize that he has taken things for granted.
After Yang is a powerful drama mixed with elements of science fiction. The movie explores the themes of the importance of family and loss. It specifically looks at how each of the characters deal with the loss of their android. The central theme of the movie is familiar to people who have experienced loss in their lives. Especially as Yang was a larger than life presence. Yang, who was purchased second-hand (“certified refurbished,” Jake adds), has been present in their lives since Mika was adopted.
His main purpose as a technosapien is to teach Mika Chinese facts, culture and heritage. Yang is the connection between Mika and China and shows us the importance of connecting culture with family. Mika’s parents are busy, so she spends almost all of her time with Yang. Jake runs a tea shop, and even though Kyra’s work is not disclosed in the movie, she is busy. Mika can understand and feels the lack of attention from her parents, and their busy schedule causes a conflict in their marriage.
However, Yang doesn’t feel connected to Chinese heritage. He feels entrapped by the commands and confused by his sense of belonging in the world. As a cultural techno, a term used for technosapiens, Yang wants to feel connected to the culture instead of being a human-size Wikipedia. He questions his existence and whether he is Chinese or not. Yang wishes that the real memories came from a time and place he could identify
Kogonada examines the metaphorical question: what does it mean to be human? In the end, Jake decides to preserve Yang’s memories. It’s personal and the interconnectedness between culture, family, and belonging are deeply meaningful and emotional. Even so, the family’s reaction to losing Yang and his memories are different. Mika cannot bear the thought of someone replacing Yang; Jake realises the time he has lost with Mika and his family through watching Yang’s memories; Kyra discovers the importance of holding onto Yang’s memories. His existence means something for the family so learning to let him go is going to be hard.
After Yang finds beauty in the most unexpected ways. It’s a gut-wrenching and soul-stirring story that explores the connections of lineage, family, and identity. The fragments of Yang’s memories are stored in a space that looks like galaxies and stars. Each memory holds a lesson for Jake and Kyra; to correct the failings of their family and children. Asianness is based on a construct, and for Yang, the identity crisis consumes him. It makes him question his existence and what it means to be an android. Perhaps the overwhelming metaphorical message of After Yang, that humanity is what we make it, may be daunting for the audience.
For more of our Sundance coverage, please click the link to read our review of Emergency here!