Human Lost (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 109 minutes approx.
Release Date: February 25th
“For humans to be humans we need death”
Strap yourselves in folks as we have another distinctly Japanese take on the existential dichotomy of humanity vs. technology – i.e. a convoluted sci-fi yarn set in a dystopian future where two different worlds are about to collide.
In 2036, technological advancements have seen huge changes in medical treatment, and now revolutionary nanotechnology implanted into the bodies controlled by the S.H.E.L.L network can conquer all illnesses and injuries, even death. People are now guaranteed a 120-year life span, though those who try to remove themselves from the system turn into grotesque monsters called “Lost”, dealt with by the H.I.L.A.M agency.
Like most things, this has created a huge social division – as the rich prosper in Route 7 or “Inside”, the rest suffer in the heavily polluted Route 16 or “Outside”. Among them is Yozo Oba who frequently overdoes on drugs but is revived by his friend Takeichi and his mentor, Masao Horiki. When an accident turns Yozo into a Lost, he is saved by Yoshiko Hiiragi, a girl with special abilities, and learns he may be the same as her.
When you learn Tow Ubukata wrote the screenplay for Human Lost, it is not surprising this is such an overly complex work, although it is actually based on the 1948 novel No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, the second best-selling novel in Japanese history. The novel isn’t sci-fi but an existential tale of a man unable to show his true self to other people, thus he hides behind a happy façade.
Ubukata keeps elements of what defines Dazai’s protagonist intact, like his melancholy, drug taking, artistic leanings, etc. and transports them over to the Yozo of this futuristic world. Other characters and their names also remain the same in this version but their roles are obviously different. One has to wonder what Dazai would think of Ubukata’s treatment of his work – it is certainly ambitious and a fresh take on the material.
Anime fans however, will be playing “spot the influence” in other areas, notably the designs and aesthetic of this advanced world in 2036 Japan. The immediate reference would be Ghost In The Shell, purely for its sterile, neon lit streets, abetted by the use of the swooping camera technique to take us into the heart of the city. The premise of people being part technology also adds to these similarities, but this isn’t the first time the GITS universe has been replicated.
Protagonist Yozo doesn’t appear until the second act, at least not in the way we get to know him – the film opens with a white haired man bemoan how his life is one of shame before stabbing himself in the stomach. Prior to this, the first act deal with the world building of Japan under S.H.E.L.L and our first sighting of a Lost, fortunately being monitored by Yoshiko to stop the mutation from running amok.
Because the rich have benefited most from the nanotechnology, someone like Takeichi has to make do with mechanical limbs to replace his arms until he can afford treatment. Takeichi is part of an outlaw biker gang on the Outside who regularly invade the Inside, with Masao leading from the front. He gives everyone a special drug that interferes with S.H.E.L.L but this doesn’t stop the police from trying to stop their rally.
Give yourself a cupcake if you are now thinking “Akira” – it is virtually impossible not to see this sequence as a direct lift from this venerated classic, except the flawless visuals can’t make it as exciting. During this fracas, Yozo is involved in a crash and turns into a Lost, killing Takeichi while on the rampage. Yoshiko steps in and stops Yozo, miraculously returning him back to human form, a surprise to many people but not to Masao.
The pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place and the roles of the cast become clearer – to a cynic or hardened anime fan, I dare to use the term predictable, but let’s face it, a vast number of shonen and sci-fi titles revolve around a “chosen one” with a power to change the world, and some sneaky lowlife looking to manipulate them. Of course, it requires some deft storytelling to make us forget this is a cliché, which is why I suspect Japanese sci-fi is so complex.
Having mentioned two classic influences on this film, there is also a more recent one that might be a little less obvious at first. Whenever Yozo is attacked or left for dead, his rage drives him to change into a Lost, his eyes glow, and his body explodes as it expands into its demonic Lost form. Sound a bit like Eren from Attack On Titan? The parallels may be subtle but not invisible.
Masao is your typical anime antagonist looking to rebuild the world by destroying it first, his motive being freedom from S.H.E.L.L. He is revealed to be one of the last living doctors who is no longer needed, but rather than hit the golf course, he’d rather lead an uprising against this controlling network system. Is he a visionary realist or a deranged anarchist? Theoretically, he should be the former but this is anime.
Visually, this is a glorious looking film courtesy of Polygon Pictures, who have perfected the 3D CGI animation blend with the 2D aesthetic. Mileage will vary regarding the look of the characters, but the rest of the artwork and animation is stupendously detailed and realistic. Director Fuminori Kizaki channels Hollywood for the climactic battle with echoes of the bombast of Marvel films, complimented by a stirring musical score for that epic feel.
Human Lost broaches many interesting and pertinent points for discussion as the hub of the main story, only to make it hard to locate its sincerity beneath verbose dialogue and reality bending set pieces. A treat for the eyes, a chore for the brain.
English Language 5.1 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Anime Expo 2019: interview with Fuminori Kizaki & Yusuke Kozaki
Anime Expo 2019: interview with Mamoru Miyano & m-flo
HUMAN LOST: Painting by Doug Hoppes
Rating – ***
Man In Black