Human Lost (2019) Review

 Introduction 

From Fuminori Kizaki, the chief director of Psycho-pass, and Polygon studios, the digital animation studio behind such narratives as Blame! (2017) and Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), comes a creative re-imagining of Osamu Dazai’s masterpiece No Longer Human.

Limited Theatrical Release

U.S.: October 22 (Subtitled) & 23 (Dub)
Canada: November 6 (Subtitled) & 9 (Dub)

In select locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Find the nearest theater at:  http://www.funimationfilms.com/humanlost

Review

June 7, Showa 111. Due to four great revolutions in medical treatment (i.e. Genetic manipulation, Regeneration, nano-Machines, and Panaceas), Japan has succeeded to become the first nation without the need for doctors. As long as one is connected to the H.U.M.A.N network of the S.H.E.L.L (Sound Health and everlasting Long Life) Agency, illness as well as death is impossible.

But the system is under attack by Masao Horiki (Takahiro Sakurai), who has made a drug to force people to lose connection with the system and turn into rampaging Lost ones. His attempt to turn as much people in Lost ones is the first step in his plan to “reset” humanity to its original condition.

Yozo Oba (Mamoru Miyano), a depressed painter, is one of the outsiders/disqualified. One day, Takeichi (Jun Fukuyama) and Masao Horiki find him in his room after he has committed suicide by drug-overdose. Nevertheless, one call to the S.h.e.l.l.’s health Management Call Center is enough to activate the Nano-machines in his body and thus revive him. The same day, Oba is swayed by Takeichi to join his biker gang on an ill-fated attempt to break into ‘The Inside’, the place where the qualified and the elites of society live. For Yozo Oba, this journey will change his life forever.

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While Human Lost has a certain thematic richness, Fuminori doesn’t succeed in bringing this richness to full bloom. Nevertheless, the various evocations, often vague, do provide enough food for thought for the attentive spectator. One such thematic side concerns a contrast, a contrast already early on evoked in the narrative, between the happiness supposed to reside in having a long life and the depression/poorness that lingers throughout society. The idea that happiness is (solely) to be found in an illness-free long life, foregoes the fact, as beautifully evoked in the narrative, that society itself can, at the level of the psyche, be ill-making.

Another thematic element concerns the prohibition to die before a certain age or to become ill while alive. The connection to the H.U.M.A.N. network implies, in other words, an imperative to live and to be healthy. That this aspect, the inability to die before one’s time has come, can cause mental problems, should not entirely surprise us. It is, in a certain way, a reformulation of Lacan’s statement that we need (to believe that) death (will come) in order to be able to bear the live we are living. Another consequence of this connection is that the subject loses full ownership over his/her body – a loss opening at the same time the possibility to be exploited.

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While one can argue that Yozo Oba suffers from this prohibition to die, he is far more oppressed/haunted by the imperative to enjoy/to be happy, i.e. the “smile!” that is repeatedly evoked throughout the narrative – this is the third thematic side. While this “smile!”, when it is formulated by Takeichi, might seem like a form of support, its quality as imperative short-circuits any serious engagement with Oba’s suffering. As no one invites him to speak about his suffering, he is left alone with his mental turmoil and his trauma (Narra-note 1).

When Yozo Oba turns out to be the third applicant, the appearance of his curve heavily disturbs the Civilization Bringing Curve, which until then only existed out of two conflicting curves, i.e. the curve of destruction (first applicant Horiki’s curve) and the curve of restoration (second applicant Yoshiko’s curve) (Narra-note 2). It is here that the main structuring question of the Human Lost’s plot is formulated: Will Oba side with the destruction/regression Masao aims for or with the restoration/progression that Yoshiko fight for? This question ultimately boils down to a more fundamental question about belonging – this is the fourth thematic side. Yozo Oba, who has been in search for a place to belong, is given, in his choice between supporting restoration or destruction, the possibility to choose which place he wants to belong to or, in other words, who he wants to be within the societal structure.

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In exploring both Yoshiko’s and Horiki’s positions, the narrative touches upon various contradictions. While Yoshiko (Kana Hanazawa) is guided by her idealistic believe that the S.h.e.l.l project can ultimately lead to the creation of a society where everyone is happy and healthy, she fails to see that her utopic idea is grounded in a system that forces people to be healthy and, as they are healthy, to be happy. In the case of Horiki, his fight against the forced lifespan, his fight to give death back to change or human choice, ultimately leads him to force people to commit suicide (Narra-note 3, Narra-note 4). One would be tempted to argue that both futures depicted in the narrative are problematic in their own right.

Nevertheless, it is by crafting an answer to above-mentioned question that Tow Ubukata starts to betray the spirit of Osamu Dazai’s melancholic reflection on his troubled mind. Instead of focusing on the self-introspection and despair of its main character, Ubukata turned Dazai’s No Longer Human into a subtle pledge for further technological advancement to conquer the societal and even environmental problems that plague us today.

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Besides offering various thematic evocations, Human Lost also offers plenty of action. It is here that the narrative truly shines. The various action-compositions, supported by great animation and strong musical accompaniment, are successful in delivering visually pleasing and exciting action-sequences. It is also due to Fuminori’s keen sense for composition that Human Lost boasts some truly memorable visual moments.

Even though the action is pleasing and the world-building is deep, the emphasis on both elements has restricted Fuminori from spending enough time on bringing the psychological (and emotional) dimension in a truly sensible way to the fore. While such attempts are of course made, these dramatic emotional moments never succeed in evoking Yozo Oba’s mental state in a truly satisfying way.

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As the use of 3D in anime-movies has gained momentum – mainly in order to cut costs, it is not that surprising to see that Human Lost is a 3D CG anime. While in some cases (for instance in Weathering With You (2019)) the use of 3D-sequences is somewhat distracting (due to its contrast with the normal animated sequences), the 3D used to frame the narrative of Human Lost is more fluidly integrated in the cinematographical whole.

The fact that the integration of the 3D in Human Lost is more successful is not due to the quality of the 3d, but due to the darkish colour-schemes and the impressive lighting-design. Both these aspects are instrumental in bringing the narrative spaces to life in such a way that the image the spectator sees feels as one whole and not, as if often the case, as different layers stacked on one another (Cine-note 2, Lightning-note 1).

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The lightning and colour are also instrumental in visually evoking the desolate and the rather nihilistic atmosphere that marks the heavily polluted societal space of Human Lost. Even when more flashy colours are present in the frame – e.g. the colours of neon signs, these colours are ever subdued, ever supporting the subtle nihilism that lingers throughout Human Lost (Colour-note 1).

While Human Lost is a very amusing action-narrative as it is, offering really exciting action-sequences and some great world-building, Fuminori is not able to turn this narrative into a truly thrilling experience. The reason for this failure lies in the fact that Fuminori is not able to give Oba’s trajectory the emotional resonance it needed.

For those who have read Osamu Dazai’s masterpiece, we recommend, in order to be able to fully enjoy Fuminori’s action-thriller, to forget that it is based on No Longer Human. While spectators will recognize certain elements of Dazai’s story, e.g. the names, the change of setting and the inclusion of action-sequences radically changed the soul of Dazai’s melancholic masterpiece.

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Notes

Narra-note 1: Oba will eventually have his cathartic moment of remembering where the imperative to smile comes from when he’s together with Yoshiko.

Narra-note 2: The opposition between Horiki and Yoshiko is further underlined by characterizing Horiki as a Necromancer and Yoshiko as a defense-type applicant.

Narra-note 3: For Horiki, the happiness people are able to attain under S.h.e.l.l. is but a result from the system manipulating people’s brain matter. The happiness is thus, at least in his eyes, a forced manipulation, a manipulation denying unhappiness from manifesting.

Attentive spectators will find a glaring flaw in Horiki’s speech to convince Oba to join his side. As Horiki equates the taking of his anti-GRMP drug to escaping the manipulation of the S.h.e.l.l. system and the forced happiness induced by said system, it should not have been possible for Oba to be depressed and suicidal while he was connected to the network.

Narra-note 4: Horiki also underlines, in his speech, that when all the qualified die – something that eventually will happen, all the citizens of Japan will become Lost.

He also paints the Shell system as a coffin of suffering that needs to be destroyed in order to enable mankind to start again for scratch.

Cine-Note 1: The cinematography consists out of a mix of fixed shots, spatial moving shots, and following shots.

Cine-note 2: Another technique that support the creation of the wholeness of the frame – i.e. the fact that the various layers blend together – is the use of depth-of-field.

Lightning-Note 1: Please note the effective way flare is used in order to create the illusion of wholeness.

Colour-note 1: Horiki’s future is painted with reds and Yoshiko’s future in blues.

It is important to note that Oba’s mental state as expressed in his reddish nightmares and his red paintings imply his aligned with destruction. That Oba, due to Yoshiko, becomes desperate to realize the blue skies of Yoshiko’s future can be read as a desperate attempt to escape the depression/trauma he is marked with.     

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