Sep 22, 2020

Human Lost (Fuminori Kizaki, 2019)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Inner demons externalize as borderline-Lovecraftian monsters in Fuminori Kizaki's latest anime feature which turns its source material - namely, Osamu Dazai's highly acclaimed novel No Longer Human - on its head (as well as inside-out) - a pretty daring move from screenwriter Tow Ubukata (Le Chevalier D'Eon, Mardock Scramble, Ghost in the Shell: Arise). Filtered through the prism of adrenaline-pumping cyberpunk-action, original story is kept on a life support machine, as its rebellious spirit roams wild and free through Tokyo of the not-so-distant (and not-so-utopian) future.

The year is 2036 (Showa 111) and diseases are the thing of the past thanks to the breakthroughs in medical technology, i.e. the S.H.E.L.L. (Sound Health and Everlasting Long Life) system of nanomachines that allows even death to be reversed. However, the power lies in the hands of a selected few elders who rule the elite of 'Inside', whereas the city outskirts are inhabited by hoi polloi who are to be exploited in their longevity, being denied the full benefits of the abovementioned system. Those who try to disconnect forcefully from H.U.M.A.N. network transform into savage atrocities called 'Lost', and are 'processed' by the troopers of the H.I.L.A.M. (Human Intelligence, Laboratory, Mechanist) agency.

The ensuing economical disparity and the possibility of complete organic overhaul lead to the rise of revolutionary movements one of which instigates a kamikaze-like assault on Inside in a memorable bike-chase sequence inviting comparison to the cult favorite Akira. Recruited by a mysterious string-puller, Masao Horiki, and his best friend Takeichi, a depressed, drug-addicted artist, Yozo Oba, finds himself amidst the mess, only to have his super-special ability awaken... with a little help of S.H.E.L.L.'s 'applicant' Yoshiko Hiiragi. What follows is 'a battle between Yoshiko’s pure hearted idealism, Oba’s despair-fuelled cynicism, and Masao’s embittered nihilism' (as Hayley Scanlon words it for Windows on Worlds) painted as a larger-than-life and stronger-than-death sci-fi extravaganza.

Exploring or at least touching upon the themes of societal injustice, generational conflict, scientific progress with its upsides and downsides, alienation in the technologically advanced era, and knowing one's true self no matter how frightening it is, Kizaki anchors the narrative in a familiar, yet uncanny reality of nightmarish proportions. Although he favors style over substance, his film - moving at brisk pace - raises a number of questions impossible to be answered unambiguously, providing the viewer with just enough food for thought to keep him/her engaged in the bombastic proceedings. 

On frequent ventures into his protagonists' minds (or hearts!), he resorts to some good ol' 'tricks' which open doors towards innermost, void-like spaces of non-existent gravity - we've seen those 'locales' countless times before, yet they never seem to get worn-out! Equally surreal and physics-defying are over-the-top action set-pieces where Kizaki and his team of animators shine brightest, but this doesn't mean they have nothing to show during more reflective parts that allow us to take a breath. On the contrary, there are loads of eye-candy in both character and background design, including, inter alia, an abandoned temple (as the revolutionaries' hideout), sterile laboratories of S.H.E.L.L., neon-lit skyscrapers evoking vistas of Blade Runner, and impressive holograms inspired by traditional Japanese art and architecture. And let's not forget the psychedelic imaging of Losts' point of view, and delightfully morbid pieces of Yozo's artwork! Complementing the lavish cel-shaded visuals is a dramatic score featuring some pounding techno/rock tracks as excitement intensifiers.

If you're fond of the 80s and 90s dark cyberpunk anime (regardless of the cheesy factor), there's a fair chance that Human Lost will trigger some precious memories, notwithstanding its glossy, CG-heavy glaze, so don't miss it.

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