Chie Hayakawa’s debut feature is a longer version of a short she directed for the 2018 omnibus movie Ten Years Japan, where her basic idea was explicated with the utmost economy. This idea imagines a Japanese system wherein people who reach the age of 75 can opt for euthanasia, thus saving themselves from a senescence of impoverished irrelevance and the state from the obligation of having to support them. The short was cold and to the point, a terrifying projection based on indications of where Japan’s aging society was headed. The feature necessarily has to not only expand on the basic government plan but show more convincingly how such a plan could be implemented and accepted, and, at first I felt the premise took too much for granted with regard to Japanese seniors’ easy acceptance of death and the Japanese bureaucracy’s cynical neoliberal tendencies. Such a dystopian “solution” to a real problem could never happen and so it seemed impossible to convince a viewer that it might. The short was more effective because it simply posited “What if?”
But once the movie enters into a more conventionally dramatic mode its premise feels more integrated. The three main characters occupy circles within the system that intersect in ways that allow them to represent more believably what’s possible. Michi (Chieko Baisho) is the senior who decides to take advantage of the plan, a lonely, single woman whose housekeeping job has been made redundant by an ironic twist of fate and can’t bring herself to apply for welfare (the insufficiency of the national pension system is assumed without being explained) after she’s evicted and runs up against the truth that landlords won’t rent to older people. Himura (Hayato Isomura) is the government functionary who recruits willing seniors to submit to the plan and receive the “gift” of ¥100,000 to enjoy as they seem fit. And Maria (Stefanie Arianne) is a Filipino temporary guest worker who cleans up after applicants go through with the process because the gig pays well and her daughter needs special medical care back home. Exposition-wise, Hayakawa has to explain the plan itself without seeming to do so, and gets more mileage than I would normally think possible with simple sub-plots, such as Himura’s discovery that an uncle he was once close to has opted to enroll in the plan, and Michi meeting with her Plan rep, Yoko (Yuumi Kawai), to talk about herself and go bowling, even though such interactions are not allowed. These moments counteract the queasy repulsion of watching seniors eagerly buying the plan’s claim of a neat and painless end to the burden of existence.
The inescapable point of the film is that the Japanese authorities have failed its citizens, and I felt some resentment with the implication that, the sentimentally charged ending notwithstanding, it is society itself that is at fault. Much can be said about the basic hypocrisy of Japanese social engineering, which honors old people in the abstract while discarding them once they become economically inconvenient, but it’s the government that has institutionalized this hypocrisy and, in its starkest sense, Plan 75 illustrates how they have gotten away with it. The premise still feels beyond the pale, but the official impulse behind it is manifest in the headlines every day.
In Japanese and Filipino. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Shibuya Eurospace (03-3461-0211).
Plan 75 home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2022 Plan 75 Film Partners/Urban Factory/Fusee