Ever since the introduction of Japanese authors in Bungo Stray Dogs, I’ve become hooked on 20th century Japanese literature. The concept of self-identity, the mundane struggles of mankind, and the views of human society appealed to me much more than the dramatic Western literature I read in high school. It must be how radically different Japanese philosophy and thought is portrayed in writing, which is something I wasn’t used to and wanted to fully immerse myself into. So when I first heard of Human Lost’s North American premiere at Anime Expo 2019 as a unique sci-fi retelling of Dazai Osamu’s work No Longer Human, I was instantly intrigued. As a fan of esoteric sci-films with bleak premises, I raced to the panel room without hesitation and plopped myself in front row seats to witness the grandeur of Human Lost.
Human Lost begins with an elitist society that is monitored by the “Shell System”, a complex array of nanomachines that regulate body functions and overall health. However, the Shell System is heavily flawed and while it promotes longevity, it also is prone to mutating people’s genetics until they become deformed monsters. Our protagonist, Oba, is a self-taught painter who struggles with his internal demons and spends most of his adulthood holed up in his room. His best friend Takeichi persuades Oba to embark on a wild night ride to break into the elitist society, only to uncover the truth of the Shell System and Oba’s true identity.
On the surface, the movie’s plot is rather solid, if not slightly confusing at first. It has the typical themes of a protagonist who is forced to embrace his true self and pick sides. There are a variety of characters, starting with the vibrant Takeichi to the pessimistic Horikiri that are enjoyable to watch and they all parallel their roles in No Longer Human. Romance is very minimal in the film and its refreshing to see the world through Oba’s lenses, or the perspective of an artist in this case. But what really stands out in Human Lost is its decisive twist of an ending that is more of a literary discussion with No Longer Human than a true homage. Unlike the original source where Oba is driven to self-reflection over all the heinous acts he’s committed and is thus “no longer human”, Human Lost focuses on the fact that everyone is inherently “no longer human”. The Japanese’s drive for the “elixir of life” and perfection via the Shell System has distorted them from the truth that humans are still mortal, but they choose to conceal and remain ignorant of the mutations. They literally become monsters, both physically and mentally. It is up to Oba and the people who have influenced him to decide the fate of humanity: to destroy them back to zero or save them in hopes of a better future. This literary twist suited the plot of Human Lost so well that practically blew my mind as I braced myself for the long roller-coaster ride of turmoil and profound despair.
The film takes several departures from No Longer Human, which can be a bit jarring for Dazai fans. I realized after the end of the film, Human Lost only borrows concepts from the original source and spins their own story; it’s not quite a retelling at all. For instance, Oba in Human Lost is shown to be more blasé rather than jocular. The descent into buffoonery that Oba is known for in No Longer Human is instead shifted on Takeichi who recklessly breaks into the elitist society to prove a point. Additionally, females take a much stronger presence in Human Lost instead of being nameless agents of Oba’s struggle by the third book of No Longer Human. Yoshiko, as the crux of Oba’s humanity, consistently serves as the “best girl” of the entire movie and makes sure Oba never strays too far. For those who are die-hard fans of No Longer Human, this might be a bit rather strange. But I encourage everyone to watch the film with an open mind and appreciate the thought of the literary discussion portrayed throughout the film.
With such a compelling and slightly complicated premise, Human Lost had to be executed with fantastic animation. While many studios are stuck deciding whether to animate their sci-fi series using traditional animation techniques or CGI, Polygon Pictures has consistently experimented with its 3DCG and has made tremendous bounds within the past four years. Human Lost is arguably the studio’s best work with the 3DCG, seamlessly weaving together to create natural character movement. Throughout the movie, I never cringed or felt the need to criticize the animation when the characters had to bend over, reach for something, or incline their heads. I have to commend Polygon Pictures for making it this far with their 3DCG from their rough-around-the-edges Knights of Sidonia and Ajin films.
But it’s without saying that to create a proper sci-fi film that is both aesthetically pleasing yet presents a startlingly familiar world, you need directors with the correct vision. And Human Lost has just that to tie the knot with Polygon Pictures’ magnificent visual animation, namely executive director Motohiro Katsuyuki and director Kizaki Fuminori. In the first opening scene of Human Lost, you can see elements of Motohiro’s previous work, Psycho-Pass, right down to the holographic warning signs of a quarantined area to the bright neon lights of a technologically advancing metropolis. It’s picturesque but also gritty when the film portrays Tokyo’s inhabitants wearing gas masks which resembles people in Beijing wearing face masks to ward off the smog. I got so many of the Psycho-Pass vibes and instantly loved all of it.
Then you have Kizaki’s vision to incorporate Showa-era elements, which is both an ingenious homage No Longer Human and adds an interesting historical twist on a sci-fi movie. According to his Q&A session at Anime Expo 2019, Kizaki-san spent months researching the Showa-era in order to incorporate the ostentatious bosozoku (motorcycle gang) subculture and the dekotora (decorated light-flashing trucks) into Human Lost. My history fangirl side practically squealed and squirmed in her seat at all these references, which somehow meshed so well with this punk sci-fi setting. Motohiro, Kizaki, and Polygon Pictures are an absolute dream team. If they continue to collaborate in the future, I will be their most loyal follower.
Accompanying all the beautiful visuals, Human Lost has probably the sickest soundtrack since the Cencoroll movies in the early half of Anime Expo. The opening song is a collaboration by m-flo and J. Balvin, a collaboration that I thought I’d never hear for my entire life. Regardless, it’s an absolute banger with its subtle rapping and synthetic track that fits the sci-fi mood entirely. Goosebumps raced up and down my arms when the opening first played; it’s a sign that I must absolutely buy this soundtrack when it makes it way to the market.
I think my only criticism for the movie is its choice of monster design. Coming into Human Lost, I honestly thought the monsters would look deceptively human yet distorted; something along the lines of The Promised Neverland’s demons or Full Metal Alchemist’s homunculi that would fit the film’s premise. But when the first monster appeared on screen, I almost burst out laughing because they looked like something straight out of the recently released Devil May Cry V. The monsters of Human Lost sported this rugged and ash-textured appearance with glowing veins coursing all over their skin, and to top it all off, they have a massive set of wings that is uncanny to Nero’s form in Devil May Cry V. It’s more of a minor note that amused me though, and it should not detract the audience’s attention to the overall message of the film.
In short, Human Lost is a compelling film that promotes a literary discussion with its original source. There are a variety of shortcomings, but most of those are overshadowed by the execution of the plot, its stellar CGI, and music. I had an absolute blast while watching this film, to the point that I was sitting at the edge of my seat and clapping at its finale. It’s 100% worth watching in theaters for the full immersive experience. Stay tuned for its theatrical showing in Fall 2019!
Special thanks to Funimation for making this screening possible!