Reviewby Theron Martin,
Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack
The year is Showa 111 (i.e., 2036). Through various advanced techniques in genetics, medicine, and nanomachines, humans have conquered disease, aging, and even fatal injuries, effectively making humans immortal thanks to S.H.E.L.L., the system which manages it all. However, there are glitches: pollution is a major problem, and some turn into Lost, monstrous creatures who have discarded all semblance of humanity. Yozo, a troubled artist, almost became one such casualty, but his ability to revert to human form after becoming a Lost marks him as an Applicant, an individual capable of affecting human destiny. He finds himself caught in a philosophical war between the other two Applicants: Masao, a nihilist who seeks to destroy everything to revert humanity to its original form, and Yoshiko, a S.H.E.L.L. spokesperson who can locate Lost and seeks to protect the world in pursuit of an ideal future.
This 2019 movie is, essentially, a reinterpretation of the novel No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, one of the most important Japanese authors of the earlier 20th century. In moving the setting nearly a century forward, the adaptation written by Tow Ubukata (Le Chevalier d'Eon, Mardock Scramble) turns some points that are philosophical in the original novel into literal form, hence putting a whole new spin on protagonist Yozo Oba's musings about whether he is really human or not. While the ambitious effort here is laudable, it does not quite work because the script delves too deeply into scientific gobbledygook and gets too distracted by the movie also needing to be a visual spectacle.
Osamu Dazai's works were often semi-autobiographical, so understanding Dazai's tumultuous life provides some interesting parallels to the character of Yozo in the movie. Like Yozo, Osamu's father died in his early teens, and also like Yozo, Osamu attempted suicide with pills and later with a lover, an attempt that he survived but she did not. The opening and ending scenes, where Yozo deliberately stabs himself through the chest to activate his transformation into Lost form, can also be understood as references to Dazai's numerous other suicide attempts. So could the fact that Yozo cannot die in this setting despite his best efforts to do so. (Unlike Yozo, Dazai did finally succeed in 1948.)
On the philosophical side, the movie explores the issue of what defines humanity (or the lack thereof) in the context of technological and medical developments. Turning into the monstrous Lost is the obvious and literal application of this, but the movie also raises the question about the role death plays in defining humanity. If we cannot die, are we really even human anymore? A dystopian setting where smog is so ever-present that people must wear full face masks and where 19-hour work days are not unusual tackles the lack of humanity from another angle, though the work day aspect in particular gets forgotten about after the early stages. So does the fate of one key character. Another interesting artistic choice is how the psychosis of Yozo's troubled mind shows in his paintings: pictures tinged in red and often portraying nightmarish entities. That makes a late scene where he paints Yoshiko quite significant, as her picture has none of that.
The problems with the movie are apparent once one looks beyond its philosophical underpinnings. The setting elements are stereotypical dystopian fare: there's a megacorporation-like entity which controls everything, a few elites living in luxury while the masses toil, rebellious elements willing to resort to violence, and a nihilistic antagonist who wants to destroy and reset everything. A girl seeks to save a guy, while another guy (who is also named after a character from the source novel) seeks to corrupt him. That all might still be passable if the structure behind how it all works made any sense. Why are 19-hour workdays a thing, how did that come to pass, and how does someone have time to sit in a bar if they are working such a job? What kind of economic system supports all of this? Why do certain humans have to be Health Standards? How is the Lost transformation connected to any of this? What the heck is the Civilization Bringing Curve, and why does it matter? I don't expect everything to be explained in a 109-minute movie, but the editing choices leave way too much in the “accept this because explaining anything would just bog the movie down” category.
The film does better in its technical merits, although that comes with a big caveat. This is a Polygon Pictures production, and those who have been turned off by their style of 3DCG in the past are probably not going to care for the aesthetics here, either. This may be the studio's most visually ambitious effort to date, and character and vehicle animation show the results of years of refinement in technique and technology, but it still does not entirely escape the sense of artificiality that has long plagued Polygon productions, especially in facial expressions. Those who can tolerate that will find a lot of visual spectacle punctuated by some intense graphic violence and a little bit of nudity (in a painting). A techno-based musical score by Yūgo Kanno (Psycho-Pass, later titles in the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure franchise) successfully infuses the movie with a nasty edge.
The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack release comes courtesy of Funimation, who also provides the English dub. The latter is a strong effort, with each role sounding perfectly cast and performances accurate to the sentiments of the characters, as well as a dub script which syncs flawlessly with lip flaps. In fact, it's arguably the best feature of the North American release. Extras on the disk include a pair of staff/cast interviews done at Anime Expo 2019, a collection of “character videos” that were apparently promotions for the film, promo videos, and a short featurette showing how artist Doug Hoppes paint one of Yozo's paintings from the movie.
In all, the ambitions of Human Lost might have been better-served by a less flashy, more introspective story. As it is, this is a largely empty, easily forgettable exercise.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Some great visual spectacle, interesting connections to source material and original creator, excellent English dub
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