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Human Lost
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by Jay Seaver

"Interesting sci-fi trapped inside familiar anime."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Human Lost" is one of those anime productions that are something like 60% world-building, 30% action, and 10% trying to find a story in all that. The fact that it has no shortage of interesting ideas which keeps it moving at an impressive clip, and it certainly hooks the audience with a great centerpiece action scene early on. It's fun to watch and explore, enough that anticipation of it all coming together can carry the viewer to the end.

The premise is that in 2036, illness and even permanent injury have been all but eliminated in Japan thanks to a combination of gene therapy, vaccines, and nanotechnology, but that hasn't quite made it a utopia - the elites are worried about admitting new members to their ranks and upward economic mobility is stalled, to the point where the city center is walled off from the hoi polloi, who live in polluted slums. Oh, and sometimes the self-healing nanotechnology goes out of control, making people into rampaging monsters - the "Lost". Depressed artist Yozo Oba (voice of Mamoru Miyano) is brought to a protest by his friend Takeichi (voice of Jun Fukuyama), where things quickly get out of control between the riot police and a sudden mutation - one which Yozo somehow reverses. That grabs the attention of both Human Intelligence Laboratory administrator Shibuta (voice of Kenichirou Matsuda), who sends "Applicant" Yoshiko HIragi (voice of Kana Hanazawa) to offer him a place inside the wall, and Masao Horiki (voice of Takahiro Sakurai), a rogue bioengineer working among the common people.

When Human Lost is focused on the basic science fiction of its posited future, it can be terrific; there's a cynical but frighteningly believable logic to how something that is seemingly a blessing can have devastating effects on society, pointing out how this new technology could freeze everything in place with retirement pushed into the indefinite future and a pollution-free environment being considered a luxury if people's bodies can just process all the toxins. Director Fuminori Kizaki and screenwriter Tow Ubukata leave most of that day-to-day material for the audience to puzzle out, instead focusing on how this can amplify the intensity of other areas, like how reckless and violent protest can become when everybody has all-but-magical health technology, even if using it can be a frustrating customer-service call.

The story, unfortunately, is kind of a mess otherwise. It's the sort of sci-fi world that doesn't seem to be quite far enough in the future for the world to have naturally reconfigured itself into what it's become, and there's really no good reason for Yozo to be some sort of a prophesied savior; it's a bit of religious thinking that seems out of sync with the rest of the futuristic world and makes both Yoshiko and Yozo less interesting and active as she tries to persuade him to help. The filmmakers sketch the world out in sufficient detail that you can follow the story well enough, even when the mythology gets dense, but they fall into the frequent trap where the audience is expected to take in a lot more about the schemes and secrets of the elite after the movie has spent most of its time in the streets:

There's fun to be had, though - a couple of action scenes are standouts, and the filmmakers are good at slowing down a bit between them, giving the audience time to ruminating while they throw in a few moments with minor characters who make Yozo et al feel much more real. Between the nice character animation and the voice work from Takahiro Sakurai, Masao Horiki is a thoroughly mad scientist, although you kind of wonder how anybody is trusting him. Eventuallly, it leaves the end of the movie moving a little fast and heavy-handed, like the characters are racing against the running time of the movie rather than any actual crunch in their own world.

It's exciting enough sci-fi action to be worth checking out, but sometimes feels like it's trying to fit sci-fi anime structures more than following the story and world where it leads. There's a loyal audience for that, though, and they'll probably get a kick out of this.

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originally posted: 10/22/19 14:48:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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