Human Lost review: Ningen Shikaku anime movie advances Polygon Pictures’ 3D animation [Spoilers]

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

No Human Lost review would be complete without first acknowledging the roots of the story. The project was created to celebrate the 110th birthday of writer Osamu Dazai, the author of No Longer Human and The Setting Sun. His works were released in the same time frame as H.G. Wells and they are considered science fiction classics in modern Japan.

When starting this Human Lost review, I did not have any preconceived notions about the story since I had never read the books. At the same time, I interviewed Human Lost (Ningen Shikaku) director Fuminori Kizaki and DJ/producer Taku Takahashi during Anime Expo 2019, so I thought I had some idea of what the film would be about.

Boy, was I wrong.

The basic premise is that 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. Everyone has nanomachines in their bodies keeping them alive, even if they don’t wish to live.

It’s a dystopian future since there are economic disparities between the Qualified, who live on The Inside, and those not qualified based on health standards are living on The Outside. Environmental pollution requires everyone, both Inside and Outside, to wear rubber gas masks while roaming in the outdoors. The state of deathlessness has resulted in decadence and a carefree attitude where motorcycle gangs will assault The Inside with no fear of dying.

The main character, Yozo Oba, as voiced by Mamoru Miyano, is a struggling artist living in a one-room apartment set above a bar in The Outside. When audiences first see Yozo, he is dead from a pill overdose. His friend, a leader of a motorcycle gang, calls up the S.H.E.L.L. System and they forcibly bring him back from the dead.

When I started watching the film, I knew the Human Lost movie wrestled with the theme of death being a necessary part of being human. The film visually represented this necessity by having aging humans reach a critical tipping point, where their desire to become a normal human again becomes so great that they disconnect from the S.H.E.L.L. System network. The nanomachines go berzerk, transforming the human into a monstrous form called the Lost.

While that’s pretty straight-forward symbolism, the plot gets a bit confusing when it begins introducing the competing philosophies of the S.H.E.L.L. System and the villain, and how Yobo fits into the picture. At first, the plot is science fiction in nature, but then it quickly becomes mystical, if anything.

(If you want more than the official Human Lost trailer, please see our related article which contains an exclusive two-minute video of Human Lost)

The leaders of the S.H.E.L.L. System are a bunch of Qualified elderly people who have exceeded 130 years in age. They reside in this great cathedral-like structure and rule from The Inside for the supposed benefit of the citizens.

This organization uses Big Data gathered from all the citizens to predict the path that civilization is following. They have one curve they are following that supposedly leads to the restoration of civilization, while the other curve represents total destruction. Touching this projection leads a human to experience a vision where it’s either blue skies or an armageddon filled with dead Lost scattered among civilization’s debris.

The villain desires that all humans be transformed into Lost. He’s not desiring full destruction since he intends on essentially rebooting humanity by using genetic backups to bring humans back to their original states before the deathless nanomachines transformed them all.

Yobo is discovered to be a prophesized being they call the Third Applicant since he can transform into a Lost form while still retaining his human consciousness. Yobo represents a potential third curve to the future vision and both sides desire to use him to reach their end goal.

A mysterious girl named Yoshiko Hiiragi (voiced by Kana Hanazawa) represents the third path. She believes in a future filled with blue skies but is uncertain exactly how that future may be reached.

As you can probably surmise by now, the plot is more metaphysical symbolism than strict science fiction. The story also loosely resembles the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. This connection is made blatant when the villain calls Yobo his “Orpheus” multiple times.

And since this is an anime action movie, these competing philosophies fight it out by having the main characters transform into a demonic warrior and the villain summons giant beasts. While these hyperkinetic visuals make for a good popcorn flick, it doesn’t do a good job of explaining the real how and why of society’s problems and solutions. The plot started on solid ground, but then grew muddied by the end, finishing off with a tragic ending that left things feeling unresolved.

Human Lost movie exclusive video Ningen Shikaku anime features FLCL Alternative Psycho-Pass director Katsuyuki Motohiro
The Human Lost movie is based on classical Japanese literature but its story feels fresh. Pic credit: Polygon Pictures

And since we are talking about visuals now, it’s time to note that the Human Lost movie was created by executive director Katsuyuki Motohiro, the chief director of PSYCHO-PASS and director of Afro Samurai. The project was animated by Polygon Pictures, the studio that brought you Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Polygon Pictures has been creating 3D CGI anime for years, including Knights of Sidonia, Ajin, Blame!, and then Godzilla. Mimicking hand-drawn 2D animation is difficult to pull off with algorithms, but Polygon’s earlier works were criticized due to the choppy visuals resulting from the apparently low framerate.

Films run in 24 frames per second to create the appearance of fluid motion (although some newer videos are shot in 60 frames per second). The problem is that having animators create 24 cels per frame is expensive, so many 2D anime are shot (or are running) on threes. This means that the cels only change every three frames, thus the outcome is 8 frames per second animation, whereas American TV animation is shot on twos, so the result is more fluid-looking action due to 12 frames per second.

For past projects, Polygon Pictures made the stylistic choice to render their 3D scenes as if they were shot by threes like traditional anime. From an aesthetics perspective, running by threes may have been more artistically true to the original form of 2D animation, but the outcome was complaints by anime audiences who disliked the low framerate. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the framerate for the Godzilla project seemed much smoother and the Human Lost movie followed suit.

There were many scenes in Human Lost that almost seemed hand-drawn. Still, Polygon’s trademark look to their characters is still jarring in comparison to 3D animation from other studios. For example, Studio Orange was highly praised for their Land of the Lustrous anime and Orange’s recent BEASTARS anime often manages to appear hand-drawn despite all characters being animated with 3D CGI.

Overall, it could be argued that Polygon Pictures’ movies are moving in a positive direction. The Human Lost movie is a fun ride that can jumpstart interesting philosophical discussions once the lights come back on. It’s just too bad these ideas were not developed further inside the film itself.

The Human Lost movie is being released in select theaters in the United States and Canada with English subtitles on October 22 and English dub on October 23. To find tickets and theaters, FUNimation is providing a Human Lost theater locator on its website.

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