For the first time, Funimation is premiering a Japanese anime to U.S. audiences before opening in the Far East. Human Lost, directed by Fuminori Kizaki, the film is inspired by Osamu Dazai’s 1948 novel No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkau), the second highest-selling book in Japan. Funimation revealed North American theatrical dates for Human Lost, which has English subtitled screenings set for October 22nd, followed by the dubbed version on October 23rd. This year at New York Comic Con, Funimation provided select fans with an early screening of the anime adaptation.
A revolution in medical treatment has dominated death in Tokyo, 2036. Internal nanomachines are embedded in our bodies, as a part of the S.H.E.L.L. (Superior Health Ever-Lasting Life) system, a corporate-controlled network that controls humanity. Because of this system, human beings are free of disease, injuries are a mere annoyance, and they are ensured of a 120-year lifespan, with illness being a thing of the past. And yet, the system is not without its flaws: unsettled economic disproportions, ethical corruption due to death’s uncertainty, and environmental contamination mark the era. Worst of all is the “Human Lost” singularity. When people are disconnected from the S.H.E.L.L. network via an actual death, they become deformed creatures spurred by bloodthirst, the “Lost.” Japan struggles between the restoration of civilization or its destruction. S.H.E.L.L. swears by an algorithmic monitoring system that perpetually tracks the ebb and flow of recovery vs. devastation in Japan.
Atmospheric pollution defines the “Outside,” an area outside of the upper class “inside.” Yozo Oba, a drug-riddled artist, begrudgingly joins his best friend Takeichi on a mission to break into the Inside via the Route 7 loop. Behind this raid is Masao Horiki, a mysterious man whose motivations lie within his ties to S.H.E.L.L. soon become apparent. When the invasion goes awry, Yozo encounters a Lost, becoming a Lost himself. Yozo’s life is saved by Yoshiko Hiiragi, a girl of mysterious abilities who belongs to the anti-Lost agency H.I.L.A.M., and he discovers he came become a demon-like Lost, a hybrid teetering between humanity and Lost. With this newfound ability (or curse, given your perspective) S.H.E.L.L. and Masao’s interest in Yozo to spur their interests for the future becomes a race to tap into Yozo’s potential to change Japan forever.
Before airing the film, Director Fuminori Kizaki addressed those in attendance; it was here where he spoke candidly of how the film takes some cues from a recent western hit Into the Spider-Verse in terms of visual aesthetics. The inspiration is noticeable; Human Lost has a layering effect, as if CGI, hand-drawn animation, and touches of cell shading came together to create a unique look. It may take a few minutes to get used to, but the visual quality appropriately blends well with the tone of the film. Unfortunately, the computer animation is uneven throughout the film. The so-called “Lost” have a dated look. Both in their design and movement, the art is limited compared to the human characters filling this world.
In terms of pacing, Human Lost can drag for the average anime fan, at times feeling like a chore to sit through, but there’s a lot to unpack when reading between the cinematic lines. Fuminori and screenwriter Katsuyuki Motohiro use the science fiction backdrop to serve as an allegory, and possibly cautionary tale of our fragile connection to our humanity. Technological achievement meant to benefit our lives and improve our quality of life is only leaving us further out of touch with the very things that make us human. Genetic manipulation has allowed for extended lives, regeneration of limbs and death is all but moot — one might think this is the natural maturation of the human condition, but we often lose ourselves in technology.
The film opens with a horrifying, yet telling, visual of Youzou cleaving a sword into his very heart. Suicide is a very touchy subject; if it’s difficult to broach the issue, then you’ll likely have difficulty with this film. But Human Lost is in no way glorifying suicide. With the S.H.E.L.L. corporation all but eliminating the fear of death for its selfish reasons, human life suddenly becomes less valuable. Ever heard the moniker that life is short, enjoy it while you can? What happens when death seems like a simple footnote far in the distance? A society that doesn’t cherish life. As for that opening scene, we soon come to realize that to transform into his Lost hybrid, Youzou must die.
The Tokyo of 2036 is filled with pollution — the air is hauntingly caustic, with dark hues of grey and green indicating contaminants. The skies are ominously black. A dark reflection of what the world has become, and yet society adapts, for the worse. Some citizens adapt to the pollutants in the air, yet others are forced to go about their day with gas masks — neither is an ideal solution. It puts into question our collective ability to blindly follow the decision-makers of the world. We accept what we are given instead of questioning what brought us here and how we can make it better. With the world’s current zeitgeist focused on the current climate crisis, the idea is more relevant than ever before.
For all its heady themes, the story in Human Lost essentially boils down to three major characters chewing up most of the screen time. Our protagonist, Yozo Oba, is the tortured artist struggling to find himself, his paintings are “beautiful” in a horrific manner. He longs for death, but the S.H.E.L.L. corporation refuses to let him die, using the nanites in his body to spring him to life when death knocks at his door — not for altruistic reasons mind you, they simply refuse to lose a laborer. The most significant character arc in Human Lost is that of Yozo; his worldview is steeped in pessimism, but it takes Yoshiko Hiiragi, a bright-eyed, somewhat naïve young lady to instill a semblance of hope in Yozo. Yoshiko herself is dedicated to the S.H.E.L.L. corporation, buying into their marketed campaigns of philanthropy and preservation of human life, but when laborers are resigned to live in the “outside” and work 19 hour days, how giving can the corporation truly be? Yozo has the opposite effect on Yoshiko, sobering her up to realize that S.H.E.L.L. has embedded its rhetoric into citizens’ minds, hers included. Yoshiko can prevent humans from turning into the Lost. Then there’s Masao Horiki, one of the original applicants with the ability to control the Lost. Masao is your cookie-cutter villain, with motivations that aren’t revealed until literally the final 10 minutes of the film. And how does the audience become privy to this information? More exposition, not a flashback, or visual cues in the environment to indicate a loss, but a conversation with Yozo in the aftermath of the final battle because… reasons? If it isn’t evident from the character descriptions, Yoshiko represents the light, Masao the dark, and Yozo is somewhere between the two with his decision to lean either way as the crux of the story.
And yet, despite its interesting themes, Human Lost will leave something to be desired. In attempting to juggle so many thematic points, neither of them is ever fully fleshed out. The world is complex, yet despite attempts at exposition, the rules of taking on Tokyo are ill-defined. The information audiences get about this world are revealed via expository dialogue, abandoning the “show me, don’t tell me” rule of cinema 101. I would be hard-pressed to recommend the film as an action set piece either — your standard half-hour anime brings more to the table than Human Lost.
Even with the difficulties of the film, there is something more fundamental to be gleaned from Human Lost. What Human Lost does best is tap into thematic notions that will leave you considering their implications long after watching the film. It most definitely won’t leave an indelible mark on par with films like Akira. Curb your expectations going in, but there is enough here merit a viewing.