Human Lost: Cyberpunk Crossing the Divides

Much like I took a song and wrote a sci-fi out of it, Human Lost does the same to Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human

…that means it has vignettes including some of the iconic scenes of the novel, but since it’s a sci-fi, it’s also gotta stitch those vignettes together, for better or for worse.

Sidebar: Just to establish what I know about Dazai, I’ve read the Book Girl novel on No Longer Human, plus seen Tsukigakirei + Bungou Stray Dogs and read The Setting Sun, but not read No Longer Human itself or any of its manga adaptions (by Ryuusuke Takagi, Osamu Furuya or Junji Ito). Thus, there are gaps in my knowledge, but Google-sensei is my friend here.

Cyberpunk is a genre that cuts to the core of what it means to be human and, sometimes, it tackles class-based divides. Dazai is a writer who does the same – The Setting Sun is based around the idea of a family’s lost wealth, for instance. Likewise, a good transference of a plot to the modern day proves its timeliness, because it can work extemporaneously while pointing to aspects of the human condition (e.g. Banana Fish is inherently tied to the New York in which it is set). However, trying to turn classic literature into ultra-modern sci-fi (or any adaption that loses the context of its chronological setting) carries an inherent risk of “not quite translating right”, due to the discrepancy of the issues involved, and I feel that happened here to some extent as well.

…I mean, why did so much stuff explode in this movie? They didn’t have to have stuff blow up, even though the audience…or maybe just me…might be all for the gratuitous explosions.

For one thing…while I was watching, it got me thinking: what is the significance of the name “Human Lost“, as opposed to the common translation for the novel “No Longer Human“? The creatures are called “Lost”, sure, but that’s just to tie into the name more to drive the point home, as is the term “Qualified” (because Ningen Shikkaku can mean “failing to qualify as human”). I think it actually means “lost humanity” in the context of the movie, but translating that from Ningen Shikkaku is a bit difficult to get, so they went with the bad translation and worked from there. With the extreme poverty Oba lived in, it’s possible Human Lost could be pointing to the Lost Decade as well, to some degree, while the original could be pointing to the aftereffects of World War I (which is why I say it’s important for the chronological setting to be taken into account). In a sense, the name is just mangling the English language to create a patchwork of new and old.

Likewise, shinjuu (心中, the word for “lovers’ suicide”) as separate characters means “heart” and “middle”. In Human Lost, Oba loses his heart (it’s even symbolised as a black hole, just to prove how “heartless” he is) and gets it replaced by Yoshiko, which is appropriate for the theme of the word…but also begs the question – why does the woman have to be sacrificed for the man’s sake? (This is a point that could be answered by the source novel, though.)

The fact they end Human Lost with Oba thinking the iconic line “Mine has been a life of much shame…” seems to indicate the story will go on, since that is known to be a line that occurs at the start of the novel. No Longer Human – if you take into account its qualities as a semi-autobiographical work – is a tragedy in the end, so adding “hope” to the ending is an interesting move.

The more I gain access to things based on Dazai’s work, the more I want to read the original to see what was changed (aside from The Setting Sun, which doesn’t seem to have much in comparison to No Longer Human or even Run, Melos).

So what are your thoughts on Human Lost? If you haven’t seen it, then, in your opinion, is there an adaption you’ve seen that shifts the plot to a different time (commonly, it’s an old plot moved to the modern day, e.g. Banana Fish or Fugou Keiji) and somehow “works”?

4 thoughts on “Human Lost: Cyberpunk Crossing the Divides

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  1. I reviewed this movie a while ago and I thought it had ambition beyond it’s narrative means. I also read No Longer Human (although it was LA DÉCHÉANCE D’UN HOMME) and it was my least favourite of Dazai’s works. Then again my favourite is Otogizoshi so clearly I’m not someone to go by. All the adaptations I’ve seen are mostly thematic and very partial. Oddly I think BSD interpretation may be closest in spirit in my opinion.

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    1. (I left this comment for a while because I wanted to dig up a copy of No Longer Human and tell you what I thought about it.)

      I have no clue about Otogizoshi, but I think I get what you mean by “ambition beyond [its] narrative means” now – Human Lost has lots of things that could have been explored, like the rich/poor divide, but doesn’t go at it in favour of more “movie-made stuff” (and the more I think about what “movie-made stuff” is, the more I think it involves a heavy dose of explosions…).

      Same with the “mostly thematic and very partial”. In particular, Bungaku Shoujo’s lifeblood is analysing the works while still moving the plot forward.

      As for my experience with No Longer Human itself, (I may have borrowed this metaphor from Bungaku Shoujo, but) I noticed an emptiness in Dazai’s work when reading The Setting Sun and it carried over here. I found myself relating with the first half, but became sort of desensitised with the second half because it becomes rather repetitive (as well as the fact I can’t possibly relate to someone who tries to commit suicide).

      I don’t know if I can agree with the BSD comment until we know BSD!Dazai’s past for certain, but as my knowledge of the BSD plot stands as I type this reply, I’ll tentatively agree.

      (Also, I went back to some of my old BSD fanfic because I remember trying to draw on No Longer Human for at least one…and scarily enough, across the several fics I wrote, past me was able to create parallels to parts of the book, although oddly enough (?) the same thing didn’t happen with The Setting Sun and freeform poetry.)


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