Movie Review: No Longer Human (人間失格:太宰治と三人の女達)

Lovers of 20th century Japanese literature are no doubt familiar with writer Dazai Osamu (太宰治). His 1948 work, Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human), is considered by many to be his masterpiece and is the second-best selling novel in Japan of all time right after Kokoro (Heart) by Natsume Soseki/夏目漱石. Outside the country, though, Dazai is much less of a household name but that may start to change with the release of a new movie about the final years of this complicated author.

NO LONGER HUMAN (the film’s full title is NO LONGER HUMAN: DAZAI OSAMU AND HIS THREE WOMEN) begins around 1941, near the start of the Pacific War. Dazai (played by Oguri Shun/小栗旬, LET ME EAT YOUR PANCREAS), who was born Tsushima Shūji/津島修治, has already seen a fair amount of success with the publishing of a number of his novels and short stories. Married to former teacher Ishihara Michiko/石原美知子, Dazai doesn’t think twice about beginning an open affair with Ōta Shizuko/太田静子, who is his biggest fan. Using Ota’s own diary, Dazai writes Shayo (The Setting Sun), which is published to great acclaim in 1947. A heavy drinker and suffering from tuberculosis, Dazai then meets Yamazaki Tomie (山崎富栄), a war widow, and begins a relationship with her, leaving Ishihara and their now three children. It’s at this point that he begins writing his greatest novel, Ningen Shikkaku. Immediately after the novel is published, he and Yamazaki commit suicide.

Director Ninagawa Mika (蜷川実花) effectively recreates wartime and post-war Japan using rich visuals and her trademark colourful palate. Unfortunately, unless audiences are familiar with Dazai, his work and his tumultuous life, there is little else here to keep their curiosity piqued for two hours. Although screenwriter Hayafune Kaeko/早船歌江子 tries to paint Dazai as a sympathetic character, the author instead comes across as an impudent lothario. It’s hard to imagine how any woman, much less three, could have found him attractive but perhaps his writing was that good.

If you’re already a fan of Dazai’s work, this film will be of interest to you. Otherwise, you can safely give it a miss.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, November 8th, 8:30 am HK time!

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