The 1948 novel Ningen Shikkaku, known in the west as No Longer Human, is considered a masterpiece of literature in Japan. It is considered autobiographical, as the torment of the main character seemed to mirror the demons of author Osamu Dazai. Dazai had completed suicide by the time the final part of this serialized book was released.
After many adaptations across many mediums over the years, Polygon Pictures has produced a new vision of the classic. Re-imagined as a sci-fi dystopian tale, Human Lost by director Funimori Kizaki is a striking film with a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, those ideas are seldom explored to the fullest.
Set in the near future, humanity has utilized nano-machines and other such monumental leaps in technology to cure illness and even death. It is called the SHELL system and it has been implemented in every citizen. The upper-echelon of society has achieved its status by the standard of health of which they represent. The film constantly foreshadows a ceremony in which those who have lived past the natural lifespan will become “qualified.”
In this world, living is no longer human. The working class labors for the benefit of the upper echelon in polluted air. They aren’t even allowed to die. Some people rebel and try to split themselves off from the system, but by cutting themselves off, they mutate into monsters called the “lost.”
Yozo Oba is a young man spending his days painting in a rented out room above a bar. He grapples with suicide and depression, not knowing himself very well. In our first scene with him, he has committed suicide and is brought back to life by his friend Takeichi, who casually calls to have him reawoken. It’s likely this is not the first time he has tried killing himself.
Oba finds himself dragged along to his friend Takeichi’s biker gang on the night of their defiant ride into restricted territory. All the while it is revealed that Oba’s acquaintance Masao Horiki is a terrorist who is giving people drugs to turn into the Lost. Oba turns into one as per Masao’s designs and awakens his hidden potential, able to turn back into a human and possess even stronger powers than a typical lost.
Human Lost‘s first act dazzles visually but perplexes narratively with an overabundance of exposition with no context. Characters ramble on about gifted individuals like Oba known as “applicants,” and explain concepts that haven’t been presented to the audience. It’s all very overwhelming The second act is when things get a bit clearer. There is a hologram presented throughout the film known as the Civilization Bringing Curve.
It is a culmination of data retrieved through the Shell System used to predict humanity’s future. Will it lean towards destruction or restoration Each side of this paradigm is personified by a character in the story who represents the corresponding philosophy. On the side of restoration is Yoshiko Hiiragi, who gets closer to Oba and tries to instill him with hope. On the side of destruction, there is Masao, who proposes that humanity’s continued existence is myopic and robbed of meaning without death. Oba’s awakening presents a third tier to the curve that both sides wish to take advantage of.
This is a rather neat and easy to read plot device by which to introduce the main themes of the film. It is especially appreciated given how many ideas there are and how cluttered they can be. The second act could have been the film’s saving grace but unfortunately, the characters, on the whole, are underdeveloped and the world is uninteresting.
All of these grand ideas don’t mean anything if nothing is done with them. The most I can gather at the beginning is that the air is polluted and that some people are pissed enough at their vague misfortune that they join biker gangs. More time is spend eluding to grander philosophical concepts than focusing on social themes which seem far more appropriate in an adaptation of a work by Dazai.
Human Lost was written by Tow Ubukata, who I know primarily from Ghost in the Shell: Arise and Psycho-Pass 2. The latter was disappointing for several reasons and the guy has received no shortage of shit for this but regardless I was interested to see more of his work. After all, maybe he has improved. After watching this, though, I am far more concerned about how Psycho-Pass 3 is gonna go.
I genuinely believe that if Ubukata isn’t re-hashing other narratives like what happened with Psycho-Pass 2, he is introducing too many ideas. I compare Human Lost to a Zack Snyder film. It is packed with moments that on their own are beautiful and sometimes really well written. However, the big picture fails because it lacks cohesion and proper use of time.
As fatigue began to set in halfway through the film, I wondered if this film was too slow, but if anything, it moves too quickly. The story jumps from plot point to plot point with little breathing room or meaningful time spent with the characters. I have an issue with films that portray grand emotional struggles that occur throughout a single afternoon and that’s exactly how the second act treats Oba’s arc.
This is especially heartbreaking to me because as the film enters the second half, there is some phenomenal character acting. The Japanese version of this film was marketed to emphasize the cast and for good reason. Mamoru Miyano is a legendary actor, from his serious roles such as in Steins;Gate or his more comedic roles in Zombieland Saga.
The prospect of his performance for a character based on Osamu Dazai – which he also played in Bungo Stray Dogs – is exciting, to say the least. Now, full disclosure, I saw this film with the English dub as it was the only available show I could catch. This was not, however, a detriment as I was incredibly impressed with the dub.
During hands down the most impressively animated scene in the film, Austin Tindle kills it as Oba. Recounted horrible deeds done to him, the character bears his soul in a sequence rich with sweeping camera shots and expressive character animation the likes of which I rarely see in CG anime. I was honestly astonished.
Fans of Miyano will undoubtedly choose sub, but it is worth watching the dub for Tindle’s performance alone. He channels a lot of the same energy from his performance as Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul. Quiet and melancholy, but also capable of conveying anger and exasperation well. He is an actor who I need to keep an ear out for in the future.
Without a strong start, a clear focus, or meaningful character interaction beyond the above-mentioned scene, the conclusion’s high points lacked impact. The artwork – at times – could elicit some astonishment from me. For the longest time, I was heavily skeptical of CG in anime but I am more than excited for its future thanks to the works of Sola Digital Arts and Polygon Pictures.
Between Black Fox last week and Human Lost this week, MyAnimeList has got to step it up with updating pages. The listings for characters and staff are shamefully limited, so I, unfortunately, can’t comment on stuff like music or animation direction because the information just isn’t there.
Human Lost was a missed opportunity to adapt a classic work of literature in a stunning and new way. While visuals get the job done, it is a small consolation. Polygon’s last films were the similarly pleasant-looking Godzilla trilogy which was equally dull in storytelling. The best thing I can say is that now I definitely want to read the original book if only to read a better story.
Human Lost was reviewed in theater during Funimation’s limited theatrical event on October 22nd and 23rd. At the time of writing, it is unavailable for legal streaming in North America and a Blu-ray release will likely be a ways off.
What did you think of my review? Were you excited about Human Lost? Did I ruin it for you? Answer all these questions and tell me what else I should review by leaving a comment below!
Thanks for reading and see you next week!