Sunday, October 20, 2019

Human Lost: A Japanese Classic Becomes Dystopian Anime

Imagine Holden Caulfield living in a near-future science fiction world. Yozo Oba, the anti-hero of Osamu Dazai’s classic short novel No Longer Human is cut from similar cloth as Caulfield, but he also shares a kinship with some of Dostoyevsky’s angsty protagonists. To commemorate the Dazai’s centennial, some of Japan’s top anime filmmakers have transplanted Oba into the dystopian environment. He must contend with challenges that are far more dangerous than mere “phonies” in Human Lost, directed by Fuminori Kizaki & supervised by executive director Katsuyuki Motohiro, which Funimation will screen in select theaters nationwide this Tuesday and Wednesday.

In the future, human longevity has reached record lengths. Unfortunately, the quality of life has also hit an all-time low. Due to extraordinary advances in technology, the S.H.E.L.L. public health agency can patch up just about any injury or ailment. That means even suicide is no longer an escape from the toil must proles must endure. The only way out is the absolutely horrific phenomenon that afflicts the so-called “Lost,” who become disconnected from SHELL’s matrix and spontaneously transform into rampaging demons.

Yohiki Hiragi serves as both the PR face of SHELL and an agent of the sub-agency tasked with putting down the Lost. She is considered the second great evolutionary leaps forward, after the mad doctor who created SHELL in the first place. However, Oba, the neurotic, under-achieving artist, might just be the third. He will learn he has extraordinary powers when he joins his friend Takeichi, a non-conformist motorcycle gang member (and one of the few recognizable links to Dazai’s original novel) in a pointless and futile gesture of rebellion.

Human Lost will be particularly rewarding for viewers who have read Dazai and understand how it is being faithful to the spirit of his work and in what ways it completely lighting off into its own territory. The very concept seems impressively bold, because it is almost guaranteed to create controversy among purists. Pride and Prejudice with zombies is one thing, putting a character of Caulfield’s stature in a wildly over-the-top science fiction context is something else entirely.

Regardless, Kizaki and screenwriter Tou Ubukata build a richly complex world, especially in terms of social systems. It is to Ubukata’s credit that the Human Lost does not resemble the structure of Akira, Ghost in the Shell, or any of the many subsequent dystopian animes that followed them. However, the translation of many proper nouns sounds decidedly awkward. The third act climax also predictably crescendos with a maelstrom of cosmic energy crashing hither and yon.

Oba is indeed a fascinatingly complicated character. Hiragi is much more familiar archetype, especially to anime fans, but she has some genuinely poignant moments down the stretch. This is ambitious speculative fiction that never sugar-coats the implications of the sociological and scientific trends it posits. It also features some unusually good-looking CG-animation. Highly recommended for science fiction and anime fans, Human Lost screens across the country this Tuesday (10/22) with subtitles, and Wednesday (10/23) dubbed into English, including the AMC Empire in New York.