Writer and Director: Kogonada
Domestic sci-fi has become an important subgenre in recent years with films and TV shows like Humans and Black Mirror exploring the social and personal micro-impacts of technological developments. Kogonada’s After Yang, which receives a cinema release and is also available via Sky Cinema, is a high-quality example of domestic sci-fi in the style and tone of independent cinema as a future family comes to terms with the failure of their android helper.
Designed to support the adoption of Chinese children, AI Yang is a mechanical sibling who helps Mika to understand her cultural heritage, although in practice he acts as both as an older brother and beloved childminder while parents Jake and Kyra work. When Yang malfunctions, all efforts to revive him fail but a local university studying Technosapians extracts his memory bank taking Jake in particular on a connective journey as the family comes to terms with their loss.
After Yang is, at heart, a piece about not knowing what you have until it is too late and the true meaning of family. It is not a sentimental film in any way, more an awakening for the story’s adults, especially Jake, who have sleepwalked through their young daughter’s life and paid little attention to the humanity of the being providing her care. That Kogonada’s film allows Jake to understand and develop this connection across the 90-minute running time is meaningful as the depth of grief and respect for Yang slowly emerge, helping Jake to bond with Mika more profoundly than before.
The concept of ‘Technosapians’ is a fascinating one and Kogonada tenderly explores the boundaries of artificial intelligence and the emotional capacity of manufactured beings to feel, to love and to recognise significance in the creation and storage of memory. These fairly standard tropes and themes for science fiction but Kogonada handles them with care, showing Yang as an intrinsic part of the family – including a very funny family dance competition – whose absence is felt. But through Jake’s exploratory process, the viewer gets to see some of Yang’s poitn of view as well as memories that unfold in flashback.
In what are unarguably the most interesting years of his career, Colin Farrell delivers another remarkably subtle performance as Jake. Kogonada’s film has a marginally heightened style which Farrell responds to perfectly, a man finding greater meaning in his life and recognising albeit rather late, his own paternal love for Yang. Farrell is matched by Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja as Mika, a delightfully mature performance that is full of world-ending pain as her routines are shattered but with total trust and reliance on the father who must step up for her.
If After Yang has a weak spot, it is in understanding Mika’s mother Kaya (Jodie Turner-Smith) who is a remote and unreadable figure for much of the film. How her views on Yang and even Mika affect the dynamic that Kogonada creates are unclear and how differently she views the situation could add greater depth. But After Yang is a thoughtful and sensitive story that adds weight to the growing domestic sci-fi genre.
After Yang will screen in cinemas and on Sky Cinema from 22 September.