Osamu Dazai’s 1948 masterpiece No Longer Human spins a tale of intense alienation in which a young man unable to connect with the world around him feels himself obliged to put on a mask of buffoonery. Years of trying and failing to fit in eventually take their toll. After meeting a man who turns out to be a bad influence in a painting class, he drifts into a life of dissipation and is committed to a mental institution. After his release, the hero reflects on the harm his actions have caused to others and declares that he is “no longer human”, electing to live a life of isolation rather than risk hurting anyone else.
Human Lost (人間失格, Ningen Shikkaku) is about as loose an adaptation as it’s possible to be, taking only the outlines of Dazai’s original and springing off from the midway point in which the protagonist, Yozo Oba (Mamoru Miyano), is living as a starving, drug addicted artist above a seedy bar. The year is Showa 111 (2036). A series of momentous advances have made natural death a thing of the past and thanks to the S.H.E.L.L. system suffering from disease has been eliminated. However, the future has not been equally distributed and while a cohort of increasingly elderly men and women rule the elite “Inside” as a kind of oligarchy, an oppressed underclass has formed on the outskirts of the city, their “immortal” bodies continually exploited in order to prop up the Inside economy but forever denied the full benefits of system they are prevented from accessing in its entirety.
Meanwhile, those who wilfully disconnect descend into a kind of monstrous barbarity becoming what is known as a “Lost”, a threat to “civilisation” which much be combatted by H.I.L.A.M. – a military organisation which exists to ensure the survival of the S.H.E.L.L. system. When Oba is dragged along by his childhood friend Takeichi (Jun Fukuyama) on a revolutionary raid instigated by the mysterious Masao (Takahiro Sakurai) targeting the Inside, he comes into contact with Yoshiko (Kana Hanazawa) – a young woman who deeply believes in the benefits and possibilities of the S.H.E.L.L. system, convinced that a utopian world in which its benefits are available to all will eventually come to pass.
What ensues is a battle between Yoshiko’s pure hearted idealism, Oba’s despair-fuelled cynicism, and Masao’s embittered nihilism in which he seeks to destroy the S.H.E.L.L. system and “reset” humanity to its original condition. Masao believes that humans need death in order to be human and that its absence from the modern world is an aberration which must be corrected at all costs. He encourages Oba and Takeichi to “take back” their “true form” as a revolutionary act designed to provoke the advent of a saviour who can help him destroy a system he himself created out of love but which later failed him.
In an ageing society such as Japan’s, it’s impossible to ignore the subtext of a world in which the elderly cling on to power well beyond their right and relegate the young and healthy to a kind of underclass as a consequence. While some humans are “qualified” and afforded special rights, others are labeled as “unqualified” and exist in a kind of underworld locked out from the benefits of a modern society. As Masao points out, those who call themselves “happy” largely do so because of the S.H.E.L.L. system’s programming, while the only truly “free” are those like Oba and Takeichi who wilfully reject it and live a life of suffering.
Of course, Masao exploits them too. He brands Oba his Orpheus, but ironically forgets that the thing everyone knows about Orpheus is that his faith was weak and so he looked back and lost. Yoshiko sacrifices herself for Oba’s potential, further adding to Masao’s awkward metaphor as he declares that “the fate of this woman is to be used”, pushing Oba towards dragging her back from the hell they maybe creating together. Unlike Dazai’s original novel in which the hero is consumed by his sense of otherness and opts for self-exile, Human Lost finds a more positive solution in which Oba commits himself to fighting for Yoshiko’s better world where health and happiness are gifts given to all and not just a privileged few. A mild critique of a hierarchical, inherently unequal society Human Lost makes a passionate plea for idealistic utopianism over introverted despair while suggesting that technological advances set us free only when we share them freely.
Human Lost screens in select US cinemas on Oct. 22 (subtitled) and 23 (dubbed), and in Canada on Nov. 6 (subtitled) and 9 (dubbed) courtesy of Funimation. Check the official website to find out where it’s playing near you!
Original trailer (English subtitles)