There was a time when writers from a bygone era would be forgiven for their misdeeds. “Times were different” was usually enough of an excuse to gloss over racism and misogyny – among other things. In recent years, many of these great artists have been revisited. Their lives have been scrutinized and people are now less willing to give them the free pass they once received.
This is what makes No Longer Human so interesting. The biopic screening at the Fantasia Film Festival is about Japanese author Osamu Dazai. Dazai is regarded as one of the greatest authors in the history of Japan. He was a unashamed womanizer who ended up committing suicide with one of his mistresses.
A man who has a wife with whom he has two children and another child with a mistress is not the type of person who is normally celebrated. Yet, that is exactly what Director Mika Ninagawa does. The exploits of the renowned author are glamorized in No Longer Human.
The question becomes, is this a bad thing? The movie is an homage to a writer (No Longer Human is the name of Dazai’s most popular book) not to the choices he has made. It works – to an extent. The story is interesting enough to make audiences forget about what is happening and not why for brief moments.
No Longer Human paints Dazai as the tragic writer who women could not help but love. In actuality, the author felt disassociated from others. The biopic chooses the path of least resistance leading to a cliched story.
It is also difficult to tell how Ninagawa wants to paint the troubled lead. On the one hand, he is portrayed as a misunderstood genius. At the same time, he is seen as someone willing to use the women in his life to his own gains. Ultimately, he leaves no lasting impression.
Taken as the romantic exploits of a writer who is his own worst enemy, No Longer Human fares much better. The plot is a basic explosive drama revolving around the intertwined loved lives of four people. The cast does a great job of expressing the emotional turmoil that surrounds the various situations they find themselves in. This does nothing to make some of the characters any more likable, but it does make the overall story more palatable.
Movies about great artists in history are usually forced to walk a fine line. Showing the true side of the subject may be seen as an attempt to diminish what they have done. Ignoring any problems will quickly be called out on social media. No Longer Human decides to essentially tell the truth but cloak it in a romantic drama. It is visually impressive and boasts fine performances, but the overall narrative feels insincere.