After Yang is a futuristic science fiction film in which there aren’t any stunts, space travel, or spandex. In fact, it’s so lacking in conventional sci-fi signifiers that you may not immediately notice it’s set in the future at all—and that’s exactly what costume designer Arjun Bhasin and writer/director Kogonada intended.
In crafting the A24 film’s vision of the future (the year and locale of which are unspecified) the objective was not so much the invention of a new frontier, but the hopeful speculation of “a return,” as Bhasin relays over a Zoom call. “The intention was to create a modern world that felt like it borrowed from ancient traditions.” Bhasin’s costume design, which prominently references Asian fashion in its mixture of modern designer fare and traditional cultural garments, is central to After Yang’s vision of a globalized civilization that is both reverent of the past and severed from it, grasping at its fraying edges.
Adapted from Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the film follows Jake (Colin Farrell) and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) as they raise their adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) with the help of Yang (Justin H. Min), an artificially-intelligent “technosapien” android designed to teach Mika about her heritage. After Yang succumbs to mechanical failure, Jake’s mission to get him repaired gives way to new understanding of Yang’s inner world, which proves revelatory for the entire family. Following up Kogonada’s 2017 feature debut Columbus, After Yang is a meditation on memory, alienation, and cultural identity.
Instead of a stereotypically slick, minimalistic sci-fi aesthetic — monochromatic palettes, form-fitting fabrics, impenetrable textures — Bhasin’s costume design favors breezy, layered silhouettes of cotton and linen in earthy shades of turmeric, indigo, and brick. “We were all excited about doing science fiction, but not really hitting it in the way that it’s been seen before, where everything is shiny and metallic and modern,” Bhasin says. “We wanted it to be tactile, warm, friendly, and inviting.” The costuming and biophilic production design—airy interiors with bountiful greenery, even inside of cars—were based on parameters Kogonada and co. established early on for their futuristic society. The first was that humanity had reached a reconciliatory relationship with nature after being “humbled” by environmental catastrophe. “The second thing was this idea of globalization,” Bhasin says. “That the world was not countries, [but] an open world where everything flowed into everything else.”