No Longer Human by author Osamu Dazai

My Descent into Darkness: A Review of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human


The first time I picked up Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human, I felt an immediate sense of foreboding. The title alone filled me with a heavy sadness, as if preparing me for a difficult journey ahead. Little did I know just how accurate those initial instincts would prove.

Over the course of this harrowing novel, I embarked on a descent into darkness – not as a passive observer, but as an active participant inside the troubled mind of protagonist Yozo Oba. Through Yozo’s eyes, Dazai reveals the alienation, anxiety and despair that ultimately leads to the young man’s literal and figurative loss of his humanity.

No Longer Human by author Osamu Dazai

You can find No Longer Human by author Osamu Dazai on your favorite bookstore, including and Amazon UK.

About author Osamu Dazai

Author Osamu Dazai

Osamu Dazai (太宰治) was one of the most influential fiction writers of 20th century Japan. Born in 1909 in northern Japan, Dazai grew up in a wealthy family but struggled with depression and isolation from a young age. These themes would come to define much of his prolific writing career before his death by suicide at age 39.

Dazai’s works are considered classics of Japanese literature and offer a unique window into the cultural psyche before and after World War II. His novel The Setting Sun (1947) captured the despair of wartime and immediate postwar Japan, while novels like No Longer Human (1948) explored extreme alienation and anxiety through his lonely antihero protagonists.

The author’s own tragic life, from surviving multiple suicide attempts to becoming addicted to alcohol and barbiturates, bleeds conspicuously into the pages of even his most narratively inventive stories. Yet his flowing prose moves smoothly from dark, wrenching passages to whimsical humor and back again. This balancing act makes Dazai’s body of fiction both profoundly moving and compulsively readable.

While less known in the West, Dazai ranks with Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, and Kenzaburo Oe among Japan’s greatest fiction writers of the 20th century. As Japanese society rebuilt itself after the devastation of WWII, Dazai’s books perfectly captured a generation struggling with depression, isolation, and existential dread. Yet his creative genius transcends time and place.

Modern readers continue discovering Dazai’s work, particularly outside Japan. English translations of novels like No Longer Human, The Setting Sun, and Schoolgirl cement his literary legacy for global audiences. These highlight his signature, semi-autobiographical style that melds lyricism and biting social critique into singular tragic works of art.

Osamu Dazai’s brilliant career burned fast and bright, fueled by inner demons that shaped his creative genius. Though his troubled life ended prematurely in 1948, Dazai’s novels and short stories live on for readers old and new. These astonishingly original works offer a window into postwar Japan’s conflicted soul while showcasing Dazai’s dazzling literary voice – one that still feels refreshingly modern 70+ years later. Revisiting his seminal fiction remains profoundly rewarding.

A Portrait of Detachment and Isolation

At first glance, Yozo appears to live an enviable life. Born into a wealthy family, blessed with intelligence and artistic talent, popular with women – Yozo seems to “have it all”. But beneath the façade of success, he hides a painful secret: From childhood, Yozo has felt utterly disconnected from the rest of humanity. He lives behind an artificial mask, unable to reveal his true self to anyone.

Early in the novel, Yozo poignantly declares: “I can nevertheless imagine no more repulsive a death than that of a character who maintains to the last an illusion of being in the company of other human beings.” Tragically, this illusion of company proves impossible for Yozo to sustain.

The Metaphorical Masks We Wear

Yozo attempts to blend in by observing others and adapting their behaviors, but ultimately fails to establish genuine human bonds. His emotional detachment and inability to comprehend basic human dynamics place him in a category all his own: “In the final analysis, I was neither a human being nor a ghost.”

No Longer Human serves as a painful case study of isolation – how early childhood trauma helped forge seemingly insurmountable barriers between Yozo and the rest of humanity. As readers, we witness firsthand his numerous failed attempts to connect. Can you relate to wearing a social mask to hide your true self from others? I certainly can.

A Downward Spiral Into Despair

As Yozo grows older, his alienation only deepens, finally giving way to severe depression and despair. His charming outward persona effectively masks his inner turmoil.

Yozo tries to escape his depression through alcohol, drugs, sexual debauchery and failed relationships. But his hedonistic pursuits provide only fleeting distractions from the utter void inside.

Hitting Rock Bottom

When Yozo falls in love with a former prostitute and self-mutilator named Yoshiko, he declares with chilling resolve: “Here was the woman fated to save me from myself.” Of course, no person can single-handedly save someone so detached from his own humanity. In the depths of suicidal despair, Yozo pleads with us all: “Somebody stop me!” By then it feels too late.

With its unsparing look at isolation, depression and suicide, No Longer Human provides an early gateway into the disturbingly dark and fractured modern psyche. Have you ever experienced such all-consuming despair? If not, consider yourself fortunate. And don’t take your basic human capacity to connect for granted.

Is Redemption Possible?

Yozo repeatedly asks for help in addressing his alienation, but receives little compassion. He remains unable – or unwilling – to achieve the basic human connections that could have alleviated his suffering.

I held out hope until the bitter end that Yozo might overcome his formidable barriers; that we could bring him back from the edge of the abyss through the simple act of human friendship. But the dramatic ending only reinforcement his separation from humanity.

What could have been done differently to help Yozo reconnect? Can a person lost deep within their own despair ever find their way back? I’ll leave those painful questions with you.

Just consider reaching out to someone in your own life who may be wrestling with similar demons of isolation. Because sometimes, a single act of compassion can provide a lifeline.

Why You Should Read This Modern Classic

Beyond its function as a psychological case study, No Longer Human operates as a searing literary tragedy. Osamu Dazai’s inventive framing device and sparse writing style grant the novel an undeniable air of authenticity. From its opening pages to the protagonist’s final entry in his last will and testament, the book feels less like fiction than the actual diary of a deeply troubled young man.

So should you journey into darkness through the eyes of Yozo Oba? Absolutely. But consider yourself warned – No Longer Human offers no easy answers, only an unsettling preview of the modern human condition. Just don’t undertake the descent alone. Because isolation only breeds further isolation.

More Disturbing Classics to Explore:

If you enjoyed the stark beauty of Dazai’s writing, I encourage you further exploration of bleak modern Japanese classics, which cement the link between artistic brilliance and human suffering:

  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami‘s classic coming-of-age story combines youthful romance withsuffering and suicide in 1960’s Tokyo.
  • The Setting Sun – Osamu Dazai’s earlier masterpiece explores a changing post-WWII Japanese society through yet another damaged protagonist spiraling into despair.
  • The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy – Yukio Mishima’s epic four-part sequence grapples with existential dread in poetic fashion across 20th century Japan.
  • Narcissus in Chains – Nobel prize winner Yasunari Kawabata utilizes lyrical prose to expose emptiness lurking beneath tradition in early 20th century Japan.
  • Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata’s bestseller provides a rare (and quirky) tale of a misfit Japanese woman finding belonging through work.

I hope you’ll use No Longer Human as a gateway into the world of modern Japanese novels. Though often dark and disturbing, they offer profound insight into the human condition – something we can all relate to, regardless of background.

Just be sure to take care of your mental health along the way. Because no book, however beautifully written, merits suffering through these worlds alone. Reach out to others when you need support and find beauty around you where possible – even in darkness, it’s often there if you have the eyes to see it.


What inspired Osamu Dazai to write No Longer Human?

No Longer Human is considered Dazai’s defining novel, though its creation was born out of profound personal pain. Following multiple suicide attempts and struggles with addiction, Dazai channeled his inner turmoil onto the page in the form of his alter-ego protagonist, Yōzō. The raw emotion and unsparing look at isolation and despair reflect Dazai’s own fractured state of mind after the war.

What literary style and techniques does Osamu Dazai use?

Dazai employs a first-person narrative style in No Longer Human, with the story told entirely through journal entries written by the main character. This intense personal point of view creates an intimate portrait of Yōzō’s internal conflict and social anxiety. Dazai also utilizes flashbacks to flesh out critical periods in the protagonist’s life. His prose is unflinchingly descriptive yet poetic, heightening the painful beauty.

What time period is covered in No Longer Human?

The novel charts Yōzō’s painful coming-of-age from his upper middle class childhood in 1920s Imperial Japan through his desperate 30s. This period in Japanese history saw the rise of militarist nationalism, the horrors of World War II, and profound societal changes afterwards. Dazai illuminates his protagonist’s isolation against this backdrop of external turmoil.

What is the significance of the title No Longer Human?

The ominous title references a pivotal emotional arc for the troubled protagonist Yōzō. His sense of alienation from family and society causes him to feel less than human early on. Towards adulthood he wears masks disguising his true self out of fear of rejection. A failed suicide attempt and the death of a loved one finally push Yōzō past the brink of simply feeling inhuman into truly losing his humanity.

How was No Longer Human received when it was published?

Though now considered Dazai’s masterwork, No Longer Human was extremely controversial at its 1948 release less than a year after his suicide. Critics found the novel’s bleak worldview and explicit depictions of mental illness and addiction off-putting. However – particularly after Mishima’s public praise – it gained widespread recognition as a portrait of profound alienation and loneliness in modern life.

How did Osamu Dazai’s own life influence the story?

The parallels between Dazai’s real-life path and that of his fictional creation are extremely close. Like Yōzō, Dazai grew up wealthy but emotionally isolated, struggled with suicidal depression and alcoholism, had a doomed first marriage, and spent time institutionalized. Though a fictionalized account, Yōzō’s painful experiences stem directly from the author’s intimate personal knowledge.

What part of the book is the most pivotal for Yōzō’s character development?

While there are many painful experiences detailed that drive Yōzō to the edge, his time with cafe hostess Oyama is the most critical turning point. She accepts him as he is unconditionally and they develop a tender connection. However, fate tragically intervenes, devastating Yōzō. His downward spiral afterwards irrevocably cuts his last tie to feeling human.

How does the structure of No Longer Human contribute to its effectiveness?

The entire novel is composed of diary entries written at different times by Yōzō, lending an intensely personal feel and chronological character study. The gaps between entries also masterfully build suspense, as major life events happen in the interim before being recounted. This unique first-person intimate confessional format puts the reader directly in Yōzō’s headspace.

Why is No Longer Human considered such an important modern Japanese literary work?

Dazai’s masterpiece had tremendous influence far beyond its controversial initial reception. It helped establish first-person I-novels as a defining fixture of 20th century Japanese writing. But more importantly, No Longer Human’s unflinching look at isolation and the human darkness in postwar Japan resonated deeply. It is now regarded as one of the foremost statements of existential despair in modern literature.

What is No Longer Human’s legacy and impact today?

The novel has taken deep root in Japanese pop culture, with manga, anime, theatrical, and film adaptations. Yōzō’s image remains an antihero icon of alienation. The book is still discussed in the context of mental health issues like depression and addiction. Most critically, Dazai’s groundbreaking ability to capture raw emotion and the darker side of the human experience remains No Longer Human’s enduring legacy.

Leave a Reply