YANG. Me and the robot

“Yang” is a more peaceful meditation on the theme of the river, which are the relationships between robots and humans, than an expressive, cinematic philosophical treatise. With all the consequences of this approach.

Kogonada, director Columbus and Yang, is an extremely interesting and enigmatic figure. The artist attaches great importance to the protection of his own privacy – his date of birth and his real name are unknown (he uses an artistic pseudonym on a daily basis, inspired by the personalities of Kogo Nody, the full-time screenwriter of Yasujirin regards to Ozu). The path he took to make his feature film debut was exceptional – he came to cinema through video essays. First, made only for his own satisfaction, then on behalf of brands as prestigious as Sight & Sound or Criterion Collection. These were usually supercuts of a few minutes (montages composed of short fragments of other films), bringing out the visual dominants of the work of specific directors (it is worth familiarizing yourself with titles such as Hitchcock’s eyes if Hands of Bresson). From time to time he also achieved somewhat more elaborate forms, with modest, but still penetrating off-screen narration – probably no one has explained the essence of Italian neorealism as well and concisely as Kogonada in an excellent video test. What is neorealism?.

Kogonada Experiences

The video essayist experience paid off in the case of the director yang not only with a rich cinematic erudition, but also with an extraordinary attachment to the visual layer of films. His first feature film, Columbusis above all a visual essay on the eponymous city, its famous modernist buildings and their designers. Static and sublime compositions push the plot into second or even third place, completely absorbing the viewer’s interest. The film suits him well – the poorly written dialogue doesn’t shock so much when presented in a setting that soothes the senses.

In Yangu the situation is similar – the visual layer dominates. Kogonada (director, screenwriter and editor) does all three and three when it comes to directing ideas. He experiments with the proportions of the image, which change several times during the projection – depending on whether we are looking at the world “through the eyes” of a camera, a human, a robot or we are participating in a futuristic teleconference. He enters the consciousness of the android (called here the ennobling name of “techno sapiens”), navigating between his memories, presented as luminous spots on a background of black and infinite space. He often repeats shots and dialogues, illustrating how fragile and incomplete human memory is in the face of the analytical memory of a robot that has the ability to mechanically record selected fragments of reality (without the use of external tools such as a camera or camcorder). My favorite audio-visual experience of Kogonada, however, is the opening credits, set to the beat of a dance competition in which several thousand American families compete remotely – a perfect example of how to convey crucial information to the development of the intrigue in a purely visual and subtle way, without affecting the intelligence of the viewer. When the main characters’ family leaves the competition, their robot (the title Yang) can’t stop dancing – we get a clear signal before the movie starts that it’s starting to break down.

A loss that ennobles

As she writes in an excellent text on AI Artificial Intelligence Teresa Heffernan: “Robots and androids have long been treated in literature and film as figures with which it is possible to set the boundaries of what it means to be human – a marginalized mechanical unit often turns out to be more ‘human’ than humans, thus becoming the way is living proof that the world has gone in the wrong direction.” Kogonada’s film is a little perverse in this respect, one would say, revolutionary. Unlike works such as Me, Robot, Ex-Machina or analyzed by Heffernan AI Artificial Intelligencein Yangu contact with a robot does not bring out the worst traits of the characters, interspecies prejudices that exclude a feeling of superiority. On the contrary. The android’s almost direct haptic memory experience blurs the lines between the human and the inhuman – as posthumanists would rightly wish. Yang’s failure, initially treated by the main character (played by Colin Farrel Jake) as a fault that must be dealt with as soon as possible, slowly escalates to an existential level – the death of a friend, a brother, of a tutor. A full member of the family.

The aspect of grief and loss after the death of the robot is captured beautifully in the original title of the film Kogonady: After Yang. The most important questions here are about what “after”. How to deal with the loss? How can we say goodbye with dignity to a person close to us, especially an inhuman person? Should Jake’s family return Yang’s body and memorabilia for research, allowing his remains to serve as a museum exhibit, or should he be buried in the traditional “humane” manner? Kogonada eschews unambiguous answers – he asks deep and important questions, raises many interesting issues, but does not always develop them fully satisfactorily (which is why the cinema he creates can sometimes seem superficial or banal). yang it is a more peaceful meditation on the subject of the river, which is the relationship between robots and humans, than an expressive, cinematic philosophical treatise. With all the consequences of this approach.

Janek Brzozowski

Janek Brzozowski

Student of film studies in Poznań. Asleep permanently, because at night he immerses himself alternately in westerns and cinema in a new adventure. A huge fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. In addition to the tenth muse, he is also interested in American and French literature, as well as football (since 2006, he is an unconditional fan of FC Barcelona). Recently, she discovered a huge love for documentary cinema. There is only one regret in life: that he is not someone else. Contact email: jan.brzozowski@protonmail.com

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