Written by Elisabeth Fong
Death comes for all of us, whether we want it to or not. In a dystopian Japan, it’s the ‘solution’ for an aging society, and it’s even a package you can sign up for – or at least for anyone above 75. Chie Hayakawa’s impressive feature debut is emotional, intimate, and chilling.
While voluntary euthanasia may seem like a dystopian concept, it is steeped in reality. Hayakawa was motivated to write a film imagining a Japan that accelerated down the path of intolerance after the Sagamihara stabbings in Japan, where a man went on a rampage and killed 19 disabled patients, claiming they were a “burden” on society with no human rights.
In response, the film centres around an important question – how do we value a life that is no longer productive?
It’s clear how Plan 75’s Japan answers this question. A life that is no longer productive is only valuable in death. From unnerving promotional videos for voluntary euthanasia to gentrification of park benches and dwindling employment for the elderly, it corners one to reach the same logic – do the right thing by signing up for Plan 75. Die on your own terms (there’ll be a bonus!), and help revive the economy (think of your children!).
Plan 75 is presented with a certain brand of benevolence, a “violence with a gentle face”. This makes it palatable and allows others to accept the decisions of the government without questioning. This is exactly what happens to Hiromu (Hayato Isomura), a Plan 75 recruiter, who sees no irony in signing elderly up for Plan 75 while he hands them hot soup on a cold day. The realities of the plan dawn on him through the course of the movie, especially as he starts to feel more empathy and compassion for the elderly.
Hayakawa also contrasts Japanese apathy against the warmth of Filipino culture (one of the biggest groups of caregivers in Japan). Maria (Stefanie Arianne), is a Filipino caregiver in Japan, with monetary pressures and the emotional toil from being away from her growing family. Her church community is quick to help, no questions asked. It’s a heartwarming tonal break from the film’s otherwise cold atmosphere of intolerance and apathy.
Plan 75 hits its emotional core through Michi (Chieko Baishô), an independent 78-year-old who struggles to come to terms with Plan 75 and dwindling opportunities for the elderly.
Michi is a protagonist I found myself rooting heavily for. She clings on to life in small ways, embracing sleepovers, karaoke and simple meals with friends. She’s determined not to depend on welfare, going on countless job interviews and living independently. She’s warm and open to trying new things, even kindling a companionship with Plan 75 counsellor Yoko (Yuumi Kawai).
But as the movie progresses, the sense of dread doesn’t go away. The raw emotion of a childhood song, the cacophony of construction trucks, the lonely silence – the sounds in Michi’s life signal her inner thoughts and point towards an impending end.
What makes Plan 75 so compelling is how the film disarms you. It starts by making you identify with and care for the characters, and then breaks your heart in the next scene. I wanted to reach through the screen and embrace Michi.
Plan 75 does not judge an individual between choosing when and how you go, or trying to live but becoming a ‘burden’ to society, it simply demonstrates how precious life is. It doesn’t need the frills of sci-fi, action or melodrama of a typical dystopian film to break your heart. Instead, it leans heavily on realism, inviting you to consider and ponder the implications of a society which equates value with usefulness. In Singapore, where tolerance is preached everywhere, will something like Plan 75 be conceivable? I sure hope not.
Plan 75 premieres on Thursday, 25 August 2022 at The Projector.
Get your tickets here: https://theprojector.sg/films-and-events/plan-75/
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme.
About the Author:
When not reading letterboxd’ reviews or watching fan-made videos, Elisabeth talks about movies and tv shows on her podcast Critical Cliches.
About the Movie:
Advisory: NC16 (Mature Theme)
Directed by: Chie Hayakawa
Cast: Chieko Baisho , Hayato Isomura, Stefanie Arianne Akashi , Yuumi Kawai
Duration: 1h 52m
Subtitles: English subtitles available for both English and Non-English dialogue
In a Japan of the near future, government program Plan 75 encourages senior citizens to be voluntarily euthanized to remedy a super-aged society. An elderly woman whose means of survival are vanishing, a pragmatic Plan 75 salesman, and a young Filipino laborer face choices of life and death.
Plan 75 was screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and received the Caméra d’Or Special Distinction 2022. It opens exclusively at The Projector from 25 Aug 2022.
Tickets for Plan 75: https://theprojector.sg/films-and-events/plan-75