Human Lost (Ningen Shikaku) anime movie interview with director Fuminori Kizaki and Taku Takahashi of M-Flo fame [Anime Expo 2019]

Poster for the Human Lost anime movie
The Human Lost anime movie is inspired by early 20th century Japanese science fiction. Pic credit: Polygon Pictures

The Human Lost anime movie (Ningen Shikaku in Japanese) was one of several major movies and TV shows that premiered at Anime Expo this year. But Human Lost has the distinction of being the only new work that is based on classical Japanese literature.

The anime is celebrating the 110th birthday of writer Osamu Dazai, the author of No Longer Human. The writer is kind of like the H.G. Wells of Japan since his early 20th century works The Setting Sun and No Longer Human were written in the same time frame and they are considered modern-day science fiction classics in Japan.

Here is the plot summary provided by FUNimation:

The year is 2036. A revolution in medical treatment has conquered death by means of internal nanomachines and the S.H.E.L.L. System, yet only the richest can afford to partake.

Yozo Oba isn’t the richest. Troubled by strange dreams, he flippantly joins his friend’s biker gang on an ill-fated incursion to “The Inside”, where society’s elite lives. This instigates a journey of terrifying discovery that will change Yozo’s life forever.

Although the story is old, the plot is straight out of modern fiction. In Human Lost, society has embraced the usage of the so-called S.H.E.L.L. System to provide immortality at the expense of their own humanity.

This system warps Japan’s society in a host of ways: unresolved economic disparities, ethical decadence resulting from deathlessness, and grave environmental pollution. Even worse, there is the ‘Human Lost’ phenomenon, in which people themselves, disconnected from the S.H.E.L.L. network, become malformed.

Thematically similar to Netflix’s Altered Carbon, the Human Lost anime movie wrestles with the theme of death being a necessary part of being human. It’s notable that several of this project’s staff have experience working on dystopian anime stories, specifically the Psycho-Pass anime series. It could even be argued that the S.H.E.L.L. system is similar to the Sibyl system in how it controls society.

Polygon Pictures produced the film as a 3D computer-generated animation. Katsuyuki Motohiro of FLCL Alternative and Psycho-Pass fame acted as executive director, while Fuminori Kizaki (Afro Samurai) directed the film. Tow Ubukata (Fafner, Psycho-Pass 2) was the scriptwriter. Yūsuke Kozaki (BBK/BRNK, Intrigue in the Bakumatsu – Irohanihoheto) was the character designer. Kenichiro Tomiyasu (Resident Evil: Damnation) illustrated the concept art.

Mamoru Miyano is voicing the main character of Yozo Oba. A mysterious girl named Yoshiko Hiiragi is voiced by Kana Hanazawa.

Artist Taku Takahashi, DJ/producer for the Japanese hip hop group M-Flo, is producing the ending theme song for the film. The track is a collaboration with J Balvin, an internationally known reggaeton singer.

Monsters and Critics was given the chance to sit down with director Kizaki and the artist Taku at Anime Expo 2019.

Taku Takahashi (left) and Fuminori Kizaki (right) at Anime Expo 2019 holding a Human Lost poster.
Taku Takahashi (left) and Fuminori Kizaki (right) at Anime Expo 2019 holding a Human Lost poster. Pic credit: Patrick Frye

Monsters and Critics: Thank you very much for having me. I work for Monsters and Critics.

Taku: Which is worse; monsters or critics? [Laughing]

Monsters and Critics: Probably the critics. [I pointed at the monster logo on my shirt.] As you can see the monster is very cute. [Laughs.] The project is celebrating the 110th birthday of the author. I kind of saw him as the H.G. Wells of Japan because he was living in the same time frame. I’m assuming you all read the book in the past at one time?

Kizaki: Yes, of course.

Monsters and Critics: Did you read the book for this project or in the past like in your youth?

Kizaki: It was probably in high school. But I forgot a lot so I reread it.

Monsters and Critics: Having read that book when you were younger, do you feel like that book affected your work over the years?

Kizaki: My first impression when I was offered this project to create No Longer Human into a movie I felt like, “Is that possible?” It’s probably not a great idea. [Laughing]. It’s so depressing and dark. How are you going to make it into a SciFi entertainment? That was my first impression.

Monsters and Critics: The title of the book itself is No Longer Human but the anime movie is called Human Lost. Why the difference in the title?

Kizaki: When I came onboard and hired as the director the title was already decided. From the beginning, it was already Human Lost. There is another novel that Osamu Dazai wrote that is called Human Lost.

Monsters and Critics: Oh, okay. I’ve seen some other pop culture references to the Human Lost aspect out there [Bungo Stray Dogs has a character named Osamu Dazai whose special ability is named “no longer human”].

Kizaki: It was partially a marketing decision because Human Lost sounded more impactful than No Longer Human. It did represent what the story is about better.

Monsters and Critics: It represents the Malformed. Okay, that makes sense. The basis for the story is that you have the S.H.E.L.L. System with nanomachines and it’s providing no disease, instant healing of injuries, and a 120-year lifespan. I mean, on the face of it, it sounds like free healthcare. [Laughing] So what’s wrong with the S.H.E.L.L. system?

Kizaki: Even though you can live a long life and have longevity, the stress that people feel doesn’t change. People still live with the stress. They’re not living, they’re made to live. It’s not wealthy in terms of life. Their life is not fulfilling because they’re not living; they’re made to live.

Monsters and Critics: Right. So you have a deathless society that is living out death. Is that a good way of putting it?

Kizaki: Yes.

Monsters and Critics: I’m sure you’re all familiar with Psycho-Pass.

Kizaki: Yes, I know of it.

Monsters and Critics: The S.H.E.L.L. System is similar to the Sibyl system of Psycho-Pass in how it controls society, but what are the major differences?

Kizaki: I’ve heard of it [Psycho-Pass] but I’ve never watched it. The producer and the writer who are involved in this project are both creators of Psycho-Pass so it’s probably because of that that there are relations between the two.

Monsters and Critics: It has that same vibe overall. This story seems like it’s wrestling with the theme of death being a necessary part of being human. What would you consider the major theme of Human Lost?

Kizaki: For me, for myself, I’m not sure what the producers and the others in the creative team think, but to me this is basically a simply a growth of Yozo. After the character meets Yoshiko Hiiragi he starts changing as a person. It’s simply his growth as a human being and as a human being’s character. That’s partially, I feel, is one of the main themes.

Taku: It’s about character development.

Monsters and Critics: Right. It’s more focused on that aspect.

Kizaki: All the characters have an inner struggle and the theme of the film I feel like is human beings’ will to push forward despite their sadness and their weaknesses. I feel like that’s the main theme.

Monsters and Critics: Will the movie differ from the book in any major way?

Kizaki: The original book is only a concept. The movie is not a literal translation or an adaptation of the book. However, a lot of elements that we feel are very important — it’s great storytelling that we’ve included. Essentially there are two different entities.

Monsters and Critics: So it’s like a retelling or is there a better way of describing it?

Kizaki: It’s not a retelling either because the movie’s story doesn’t follow the book at all. The story itself is different.

Monsters and Critics: I see. So it’s thematically the same.

Kizaki: It’s just that certain elements of the book that we drew into the movie. I don’t even think you can call that a retelling.

Monsters and Critics: Yeah, that’s completely different then.

Kizaki: Maybe it’s “inspired by”.

Taku: It’s more like the core essence of the original is pulled out.

Kizaki: I’m sorry, you haven’t seen the movie, right?

Monsters and Critics: [Laughs.] No. That’s why I wouldn’t know, yeah. I guess that leads to one of my final questions. Since the movie is inspired by the book does that leave an opening for a sequel?

[Taku laughs.]

Kizaki: If this one is successful it’s possible.

Monsters and Critics: What type of music will represent this dystopian society?

Taku: We had this discussion on how the ending should be. I personally asked Mr. Kizaki when this story ends because our music starts right after. We had to make sure it fit the emotion of the audience. Also, the lyrics. When you listen to just the music it could sound like a bad couples’ relationship. Or like how your relationship is not as hot as when you first meet. You know, like they’re both watching smartphones kind of situation.

Monsters and Critics: Distance.

Taku: Yeah, or like there’s no soul in love. There’s also a double meaning to the movie itself. You’re not alive. Your soul is gone. You’re made to live, right? That kind of essence is in the lyrics. We asked our friend J Balvin to do it together. Although we did it together it was a whole new thing for him, too. The track is not something we usually sing to. If you have a chance to watch it in a theater I made it in three-dimensional sound.

Monsters and Critics: It’s mixed like in 7.1 or something? That’s really neat.

Taku: Yeah, so you’ll hear some sound come from here and there. [Taku says this while motioning around.]

Monsters and Critics: What’s the title of this ending theme?

Taku: Human Lost. It’s named after the film. [Taku asks several personal questions of me, and then asks what animes I watch.]

Monsters and Critics: Quite a variety. I do like science fiction, though, and dystopian type stuff.

Taku: You haven’t watched the movie yet but you’ve really done your homework.

Monsters and Critics: I tried to make sure I knew what I was talking about before coming here. Thank you. I haven’t read the book but I tried to get an idea of what the overall themes were so I could talk about those issues with you.

Kizaki: The movie is still enjoyable as just simple action SciFi entertainment.

Monsters and Critics: I guess that gets back to what you said earlier about how you felt the book was too depressing, so I’m guessing you must have embedded some joy in there.

Kizaki: Yes, I think it’s very easily watchable and enjoyable.

Taku: I watched it and the CG and the action scenes are really, really good. You’re gonna like it.

Monsters and Critics: I’ve been really enjoying all the recent stuff from Polygon Pictures; the Godzilla trilogy and all the recent ones coming out. I’m looking forward to seeing how Human Lost turns out. Thank you so much for your time!

The Human Lost movie premiered at Anime Expo 2019 in a screening the morning of July 5, 2019. The theatrical version has both subtitles and an English dub. A worldwide release date is planned for the fall of 2019 as distributed by FUNimation.

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