After Yang

The fantastic opening credits sequence to After Yang, which ingeniously introduces the film's main characters as they perform dance moves in a family-based, massive multiplayer version of Dance Dance Revolution, won't prepare you for the slow, meditative sci fi drama that follows: the second feature from Columbus writer/director/editor Kogonada.

Adapting the short story Saying Goodbye to Yang, After Yang takes place in an indeterminate future – at least fifty years from now, by plot requirements, and probably more like a hundred – in which human beings mostly happily live alongside clones and androids. (It's never explained whether said need for clones and androids stems from some sort of major human die-off, but this future world does have a distinctly lonely feeling to it.) Our snappy opening sequence ends with Yang (Just H. Min), the android "tutor" of a multiethnic American family (father Colin Farrell, mother Jodie Turner-Smith, daughter Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), unable to snap out of the dance moves. He is malfunctioning; the next thing we know, he is dead.

What follows is another of those existential movies that ask, "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" We've seen this since Blade Runner and even earlier, but although After Yang's premise treads over familiar territory, there's a gentleness to it that most of those other "robot with a soul" films lack. In a nutshell, it turns out that Yang had recorded little bits of video throughout his existence – his programming allowed him to "remember" a few seconds per day, whenever he experienced something he thought would be memorable – revealing a complex past that his host family hadn't expected. (In a clever twist, the family had purchased Yang secondhand; it's their inability to return him to a dealership that leads to this surprising discovery.)

Kogonada, who is Korean-American, invests some of his story with questions about Asian-American identity (Yang's job was to help the daughter Mika, adopted from China, learn about her roots); there is also a very long scene between Yang and the father about the intricacies of tea. After Yang is enhanced by these little details, which feed its overriding theme of "What is a life?" Slow and quiet but never boring – its short runtime helps – After Yang is a sweet little slice of science fiction. I recommend it in its entirety, but at least check out those opening credits.