Human Lost (人間失格, Fuminori Kizaki, 2019)

Human lost animeOsamu 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)

Liz and the Blue Bird (リズと青い鳥, Naoko Yamada, 2018)

Liz and the Blue Bird poster 1If you love it, set it free. For most accepted wisdom, but hard to practice. The heroine of Liz and the Blue Bird (リズと青い鳥, Liz to Aoi Tori) finds herself facing this exact dilemma as she puts off facing the inevitable changes in a childhood friendship with adulthood lingering on the horizon. A Silent Voice’s Naoko Yamada returns with another delicate examination of teenage relationships, this time a spin-off to the popular Sound! Euphonium franchise, in which her fragile heroines struggle to address their true feelings as they subsume themselves into the titular piece of music but fail to master it even as it strikes far too close to home.

Our heroine, Mizore (Atsumi Tanezaki), nervously waits outside the school as if too shy to head in alone, eventually trailing along behind the comparatively more extroverted Nozomi (Nao Toyama). The two girls have been tasked with playing a movement known as Liz and the Blue Bird, inspired by a storybook of which Nozomi is particularly fond. Liz, a lonely young woman living alone in the forest, bonds with a mysterious girl who arrives one day and seems to be the human incarnation of the blue bird she longingly gazed at in the sky. Though the two women bond and live together in blissful happiness, Liz begins to feel guilty that her love has trapped the blue bird on the ground and forces it away to fulfil itself in the sky.

To begin with, it’s difficult to tell if Mizore and Nozomi are really friends at all or if Mizore’s painfully obvious longing is a completely one-sided affair. Mizore herself remains hard to read, either intensely shy and anxiously self-conscious or wilfully aloof as she rejects overtures of friendship from some of the other girls and devotes herself to Nozomi alone. Nozomi, meanwhile, is outgoing and gregarious, a natural leader well liked by the other band members and with plenty of (superficial at least) friends though perhaps lonely and confused in her own way. There is a kind of awkwardness between them, a tension neither seems quite able to address, which finds expression in the failure of their musical performance as it continually fails to find its proper harmony.

The story of the blue bird takes on extra significance for each as they cast themselves, perhaps mistakenly, in their respective roles from the fairytale. Talking things over with a sympathetic teacher concerned that she hasn’t turned in her career survey, Mizore declares herself unable to understand the story, not comprehending how Liz could have brought herself to release the blue bird rather than cage it to ensure it would be hers, and hers alone, forever. Fearful that Nozomi will fly away, she wants to tether her close but again does not quite know how. Nozomi, meanwhile, is conflicted. She feels a responsibility towards her friend’s feelings, but is insecure in her own talents and unsure she could follow Mizore on her chosen path even if that was her independent will. In fear of disappointing each other, they begin to pull away rather than face the inevitable end of their peaceful high school days.

Yamada’s camera is painstakingly astute in capturing the awkwardness of adolescent interaction from the slight tension in Mizore’s shoulders as Nozomi draws too close to the way she plays with her hair when nervous, glancing plaintively at hands and calves or the swishing motion of Nozomi’s ponytail, but always hanging back. Unlike Mizore, Nozomi understands the moral of the story but feels the ending is too sad, convincing herself that if the blue bird is free to fly then it’s also free to return. Having been forced to confront their individual troubles, the girls are better placed to see themselves in relation to each other, breaking the tension but perhaps with melancholy resignation as they commit to enjoying their remaining time together in the realisation that they may soon part. A beautifully observed portrait of teenage friendship and awkward adolescent attraction, Liz and the Blue Bird is an infinitely subtle exercise in emotional intensity as its heroines find the strength to accept themselves and each other in acknowledging that they were each made to fly through perhaps not quite yet.


Liz and the Blue Bird was screened as part of the 2019 Nippon Connection Film Festival.

US trailer (Japanese with English subtitles)

Fireworks (打ち上げ花火、下から見るか? 横から見るか?, Akiyuki Shinbo & Nobuyuki Takeuchi, 2017) [Fantasia 2018]

Fireworks posterBack in 1993, Fireworks, Should We See it From the Side or From the Bottom? (打ち上げ花火、下から見るか? 横から見るか?, Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miru ka? Yoko kara Miru ka?), became something of a sliding doors moment for the young Shunji Iwai who received an award from the Directors Guild of Japan for what was in essence a single episode in an anthology TV series dedicated to the idea of “what if”. “What if” is, it has to be said, a constant theme in nostalgic Japanese cinema as slightly older protagonists look back on the hazy days of youth and wonder what might have been if they’d only known then what they know now. Scripted by Hitoshi One (Scoop!) and produced by Shaft, the anime adaption attempts to do something similar, floating in with a gentle summer breeze that could easily be from 30 years ago or yesterday while its conflicted hero ponders where it is he ought to stand to get the most beautiful view of life passing him by.

The central dilemma that seems to obsess the boys this particular summer is whether fireworks are flat or three dimensional and whether your perception of them changes depending on where you stand. Norimichi (Masaki Suda) risks falling out with his best friend Yusuke (Mamoru Miyano) and so has avoided revealing the fact that they both have a crush on the same girl – Nazuna (Suzu Hirose), who (neither of them have noticed) has a dilemma of her own. A chance meeting at the swimming pool seems primed to dictate the romantic fate of all concerned. Norimichi and Yusuke race for the affections of Nazuna who, in the original timeline, ends up asking Yusuke to see the summer fireworks with her even though it’s Norimichi she went there to meet.

Unfortunately Yusuke is a flake and nothing goes to plan. He stands Nazuna up to hang with his buddies and figure out the answer to their inane riddle leaving her to run into Norimichi who gets an unexpected glimpse at her inner turmoil. A mysterious orb salvaged by Nazuna from the nearby sea gives Norimichi a chance to start over, be braver, do things differently thanks to the benefit of hindsight, and so he begins a path to idealised romance by manipulating the events around him to finally “save” Nazuna from making a rash decision (or at least from making it alone).

In 1993, Nazuna’s dilemma was perhaps a little more unusual than it might seem now. Her twice married single-mother (Takako Matsu) is planning to marry again which requires the teenage Nazuna to leave her home behind to live with a strange man in a strange town. Though her new step-dad seems nice and is obviously trying his best, Nazuna is not of a mind to give in. She consents to accepting one of the ice-creams he’s bought to curry favour (after all, there’s no need to be “rude”), but is not about to go so far as to say thank you or to enjoy eating it together with the rest of the family when she could guzzle it sulkily in the comfort of her bedroom. Nazuna wants to escape, but her ideas of doing so are childishly naive even if she puts on a sophisticated front by joking about going to Tokyo to work on the fringes of the sex trade by lying about her age. Hence, she asks a boy she likes but barely knows to take her away from this place, but the boy is just a boy and not quite equipped for rescuing damsels in distress from suffering he doesn’t understand.

Like many Japanese teen dramas, Norimichi’s interior monologue takes on a rueful quality, as if he’s eulogising his youth while still inside it. He doesn’t know whether there’s a difference if you look at things from one angle or another because he’s not particularly used to thinking about things and his first few experiments with the orb are pure reactions to events rather than thought through decisions about effects and consequences. Nevertheless, use of the orb shifts him into a philosophical contemplation of what it is to live a life. Finally realising he should probably ask Nazuna what it is she really wants, the process the pair undergo is one of learning to live in the now rather than obsessing about the end of something that might never begin if you never find the courage to start.

In the end their beautiful dream world is ruptured by a drunken old man, shattering into a thousand shards of memory of things that never were. Fireworks wants to ask if you can have a more fulfilling life by simply changing your perspective, but its central messages never quite coalesce. There is something about Iwai’s original concept which inescapably of its time, sliding neatly into the melancholy world of early ‘90s teen drama drenched in nostalgia for an era not yet past. Reaching for poignant philosophising, Fireworks falls short through, ironically enough, focussing too heavily on a single point of view. An oddly “flat” exercise, Shinbo’s adaptation misses the mark in its climactic moments but perhaps manages to offer something to the lovelorn teens of today if only by yanking them back to a more innocent time.


Fireworks was screened as part of Fantasia International Film Festival 2018.

International trailer (English subtitles)

The original 1986 Seiko Matsuda song reprised by Nazuna at a climactic moment.

BLAME! (ブラム!, Hiroyuki Seshita, 2017)

blame posterCities. The pinnacle of human achievement and an almost living monument to civilisation. Does the same principle of human collective settlement also relate to the digital realm or will increasing interconnectedness eventually destroy everything we’ve built? Following their landmark CGI adaptation of Tsutomu Nihei’s Knights of Sidonia, Polygon Pictures return to source by adapting the author’s debut work BLAME! into a feature length animated movie. Like Sidonia, BLAME! (ブラム!) takes place many years after a climactic event has led to the fall of human civilisation – an event so long in the past as to have become mere myth to the small number of humans still clinging on to life in a now inhospitable terrain, but BLAME!’s dystopia is very much one created by man, losing control of its technology in its ever advancing hubris.

As the young girl who offers the opening monologue tells us, no one knows how all of this happened. Once, a long time ago, humans lived in a city but a virus came and they lost the ability to communicate with the environment in which they lived. The city began to grow, and the “Safeguard” system decided that humans were “illegal immigrants” in their own land. The exterminators swooped in to wipe them out but a small band of humans has managed to survive a few hundred years in a kind of safe zone protected by a perimeter wall the city’s systems are prevented from monitoring.

The rapid expansion of the city has also meant a reduction in vegetation and the surviving humans are running low on food. An intrepid team of children ventures out into the wasteland in search of sustenance, but they’re spotted and targeted for elimination. A mysterious figure appears on the horizon and saves them. The man calls himself a “human” and is disappointed to realise none of the children are carriers of the “Net Terminal Gene” which he is seeking. Killy (Takahiro Sakurai) claims that the Net Terminal Gene will enable the humans to take back control of the city’s systems, halt the excessive building program and call off the Safeguard attack dogs.

Killy’s appearance brings new hope to the villagers, trapped within their perimeter stronghold but facing the prospect of staying and starving or taking their chances with Safeguard. Concentrating on action rather than philosophising little time is given over to considering how humanity lives though it’s certainly puzzling that there is so little reaction when the band of children returns home much depleted in numbers. Indeed, aside from Pops (Kazuhiro Yamaji), the de facto leader of the community, no other “adults” appear.

Using Killy as a kind of deflective shield, the gang press on until they find an abandoned robot, Cibo (Kana Hanazawa), who tells them about an “Automated Factory” in which she can generate both an abundant food source and a synthetic tablet which will allow them to get back into the city’s systems. What ensues is a deadly firefight as the system fights back. Cibo pleads with The Authority in the digital realm while Killy and the villagers hold back the forces of order with firepower from the outside.

Killy remains a man of few words, his language dulled through inactivity and his expression inscrutable, but the villagers, perhaps lulled into a false sense of security thanks to long years of isolation, never question his motives or reliability. Likewise, Cibo clearly knows more than she lets on but offers the only lead so far on a way back to a less precarious way of life. Killy’s sudden appearance becomes a mythic event, a point of transition in the history of the post-apocalyptic world, but also seems to be without resolution as the closing coda implies.

Like Sidonia, the animation quality is at times variable but often excels in its highly detailed backgrounds, allowing production design to smooth over any narrative gaps. What BLAME! lacks in terms of plot and character complexity it makes up for in world building though it is difficult to ignore the feeling of the loss born of condensing something far larger into an easily digestible whole. Nevertheless, BLAME! does what it sets out to do with quiet brilliance in detailing what might be the first of many adventures of the wanderer known as Killy as he explores a world ruined beyond repair looking for the key to unlock a brighter future.


Netflix trailer (Japanese with English subtitles/captions)

Genocidal Organ (虐殺器官, Shuko Murase, 2017)

genocidal organHistory books make for the grimmest reading, subjective as they often are. Science fiction can rarely improve upon the already existing evidence of humanity’s dark side, but Genocidal Organ (虐殺器官, Gyakusatsu Kikan) has good go anyway, extrapolating a long line of political manipulations into the near future which neatly straddles a utopian/dystopian divide. Plagued by production delays and studio bankruptcy, Genocidal Organ is the third of three films adapted from the novels of late sci-fi author Project Itoh, arriving nearly two years after previous instalments Harmony and Empire of Corpses. Sadly, its message has only become more timely as the world finds itself on the brink of a geo-political recalibration where fear and division rule the roost.

Set in 2022, the world of Genocidal Organ is one of intense “security”. Following the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Sarajevo in 2017, developed nations have once again become jumpy. As the world weary narrative voice over informs us, Americans have sacrificed their freedoms for an illusion of safety which decreases the burden of living under the threat of terrorism. This brave new world is a surveillance state where citizens are chipped and monitored, even the simple act of buying pizza requires an identity check.

Less developed nations, however, have descended into a hellish cycle of internecine wars and large scale atrocities. American special forces have identified a pattern which puts one of their own, mysterious linguistics professor John Paul (Takahiro Sakurai), at the centre of a vast conspiracy. Army Intelligence officer Clavis Shepherd (Yuichi Nakamura) is despatched to track the master criminal down through his sometime girlfriend Lucia (Sanae Kobayashi), a Czech national and former MIT linguistics researcher now teaching Czech to foreigners in Prague.

Clavis, like the best film noir heroes, finds himself falling down a rabbit hole into an increasingly uncertain world. A top soldier, he has been “engineered” to decrease emotionality and limit pain response to make him a “better” soldier. His world is first shaken when one of his comrades goes rogue, kills a valuable mark, and then turns a gun on him. The top brass blame PTSD but not only that, PTSD that was in fact induced by the very processes the soldiers undergo to ensure than PTSD is impossible. He has always believed that his actions, and those of his superiors have been for the greater good, but he has rarely stopped to think what that greater good may be.

Clavis’ missions see him jumping into a coffin-like landing pod and parachuting into street battles in which many of the combatants are children who have been drugged “to make them better soldiers”. Just as you’re starting to wonder who exactly is perpetrating the genocide, Clavis is asked the relevant question by a captive John. He replies that it’s just his job. John reminds Clavis that that particular justification has a long and terrifying history and so perhaps he ought to ask himself why he chooses to do this particular job and do it so blindly.

John’s big theory is that violence has its own grammar, a secret code buried in language which can be engineered to provoke political instability but then conveniently contained within its own language group. Essentially, he posits the idea of sicking the “terrorists” onto each other and letting them fight it out amongst themselves in those far off places which no one really cares about. The citizens of the developed world might frown at their morning papers, but they’ll soon file it under “terrible things happening far away” and go back to enjoying their lives of peace and security. John’s plan, he claims, is the opposite of vengeance, a means of keeping his side safe by ensuring that the terrible things stay far away, contained.

The “genocidal organ” is the heart hardened towards the suffering of others. John has some grand theories about this, about the survival instinct, fear, suspicion and desperation, but he also has a few on the trade offs between freedom and security. Itoh’s vision is bleak, and the prognosis bleaker but its logic cannot be denied, even if its execution is occasionally imperfect.


Currently on limited theatrical release throughout the UK courtesy of All the Anime.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Psycho-Pass: The Movie (劇場版 PSYCHO-PASS サイコパス, Katsuyuki Motohiro & Naoyoshi Shiotani, 2015)

psycho-pass movieThe Japan of 2116 is a peaceful place. Crime is at an all time low thanks to the Sybil system which monitors the nation’s citizens issuing them a “Crime Coefficient” rating assessing how likely they are to commit a crime. When a potential criminal’s Psycho-Pass reaches an unacceptable level, the Public Safety Bureau are called in to hopefully put a stop to any criminal activity before it has the chance to occur.

However, the world outside of Japan is not quite so ordered and so its Sybil system has become an important political export. Things are about to get murky as the nearby SEAUn (South East Asia Union) is currently in a state of civil war and its de-facto leader has struck a deal with Japan for additional support in return for trialling the system in a new reclaimed land development. Not everyone is happy with sacrificing personal liberty for social safety and so an active resistance unit working against both the deployment of Sybil and the leader they see as a dictator is continuing to prove a destabilising force.

This all comes to a head when a group of so called “terrorists” manage to sneak in Japan hoping to  take the fight to Sybil itself. After a brief but intense shootout with the PSB, the gang is neutralised save for one which famed Inspector Akane Tsunemori manages to capture and take in for questioning. However, whilst Akane is waiting for the captive to come round from the sedative she gave him, her bosses have taken drastic action which amounts to lethal torture. Akane is horrified, but when the recovered information flags up the familiar face of her former colleague Kogami, she quickly finds herself at the centre of covert, international political machinations which cast her own nation in far from a positive light.

Psycho-Pass: The Movie (劇場版 PSYCHO-PASS サイコパス, Gekijo-ban Psycho-Pass) is the big screen outing for the hit TV anime which has so far spanned two series each with their own distinct narrative arcs. Series creator Gen Urobuchi handled the first season but sat out the second (handing the reign’s over to Murdock Scramble’s Tow Ubukata) in order to work on this film which takes place after season two but was actually developed at the same time so avoids direct reference to its events. For the most part, Psycho-Pass: The Movie works as a stand alone enterprise though it does make reference to plot elements from season one, or more exactly its villain, without further explanation which may leave newcomers feeling lost. Fans of the franchise already familiar with the characters and their relationships will undoubtedly get the most out of the set-up, but in depth knowledge of the series is never a prerequisite for understanding the action.

“Action” is an apt place to start when it comes to the themes of Psycho-Pass: The Movie as it acts more as an exciting side story to the main series than the grand conclusion that might be expected. Broadly speaking, the central concern is the increasing interference of powerful nations in the “domestic affairs” of smaller ones. Akane is as idealistic as they come despite everything she has already seen and is unprepared for the extent her own nation’s complicity in this very dirty, possibly proxy, war. In this country, those with flagged Crime Coefficients are forced to wear a standard issue collar which is designed to explode Battle Royale style and are treated as an underclass not permitted to board the same public transport or occupy the same “public” space as the general population. Once again this sits uncomfortably with Akane, but there isn’t a lot she can do about it.

Kogami, now a drifting mercenary since going on the run from the PSB, has become a rebel revolutionary trying to help the oppressed citizens fight for democracy in this war torn land. To some, he’s a terrorist (though the rebels are never shown targeting civilians or carrying out “terrorist action” so much as acting as a resistance group) but his sights are firmly set on hypocritical, oppressive regimes and especially those acting as puppet states for a third party. Akane and Kogami’s relationship status continues in the “it’s complicated” direction which has progressed throughout the series and they aren’t given very much time to build on that here though their mutual respect for each other adds to the tension as each comes to terms with being on opposing sides yet somehow still “together” in spite of external obligations.

Even if Psycho-Pass: the Movie proves disappointing in terms of its character development (betraying its side story origins), it excels in the action stakes with several impressive, high octane battle scenes not to mention the strange ballooning effect of the explosive Dominator weapons. Though it sets up a complicated, geo-political conspiracy of superpowers exploiting civil unrest to steal puppet states and install dictatorial stooges who oppress the local population into a sublime obedience with the promise of long desired peace, it wisely avoids expository dialogue preferring to keep things moving in a more urgent fashion. A minor entry into the Psycho-Pass world, Psycho-Pass: The Movie is nevertheless an exciting return to its increasingly dystopian universe and even if it adds little in terms of themes or characters, does at least point towards a promising continuation of the series.


Reviewed as part of the “biennial” Anime Weekend at BFI Southbank. Psycho-Pass: The Movie has also been licensed for UK distribution by All the Anime (and Funimation in the US).

English Subtitled trailer: