There are plenty of biopics about artists that take a look at the events in their personal lives surrounding the creation of some of their most famous work. Mika Ninagawa’s No Longer Human is one such film, exploring the romantic exploits of Japanese author Osamu Dazai with visual splendor but not a whole lot of narrative momentum.
The movie tells the story of Dazai, whose life was filled with tumultuous relationships including a series of affairs he had while his wife was pregnant. The eponymous novel which is considered by many to be Dazai’s magnum opus is believed to be at least partially autobiographical, so there are a lot of meta elements in the storytelling that are intriguing.
Perhaps the film’s most compelling offering is its discussion of obsession in art. Yet while this commentary is interesting, it’s not enough to sustain a two-hour runtime. There are plenty of romances about obsession, a handful of which talk about muses. (In fact, there was even a better one playing at the same festival as this.)
The movie definitely runs long, especially because it just feels like two hours of misfortune. It’s two hours of a depressed character doing depressive things, and at a certain point, it becomes repetitive and unpleasant to watch. That isn’t to say that there is no merit in it — it just may struggle to keep the interest of most audiences.
The character development here is also sorely lacking. It seems clear that the viewer is supposed to feel bad for Dazai, and anyone who knows his life story going in will undeniably feel some level of sympathy, but he’s presented in a way that isn’t particularly approachable, and the film’s emotion suffers as a result.
That said, the cast isn’t bad, as they do the best they can with the material they are given. Shun Ogiri gives a solid performance as Dazai, even if the extent of his role is mostly just moping. Fumi Nikaido is a talented actress, but it seems like she may be getting typecast into the role as the alluring muse. And Rie Miyazawa and Erika Sawajiri are both good but underused as two more love interests.
Additionally, the uniquely gorgeous style that Ninagawa brings to the table is a highlight. Ninagawa is also a photographer, so it makes sense that a great deal of effort and detail was put into making the movie look great. The use of color is particularly impressive, although the juxtaposition of the beautiful visuals with the darker subject matter could have been increased.
No Longer Human is a very nice-looking film, but it fails to deliver on its narrative promise. Ultimately, it is little more than an average romance under the guise of a self-referential biography.
No Longer Human screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which ran August 20-September 2.