In a near-future world, the Japanese government introduces a measure to combat an ageing population. Participants who have passed the age of 75 will receive remuneration for signing up to a euthanasia programme. Michi, a 78-year-old hotel maid, faces intense loneliness when let go from her job and sees the scheme as a solution. Hiromu, a Plan 75 recruitment agent, feels conflicted when a family member signs up to the scheme. While Maria, a Filipino care-worker, takes a job in one of the Plan 75 mass crematoriums.
Chie Hayakawa’s slow-burn dystopian feature debut was developed from her earlier short film within the Ten Years Japan anthology, executive produced by Hirokazu Koreeda. It’s a devastating yet life-affirming work that digs deep into its personal stories, offering a stinging critique of how we view and care for our older generation.
Kimberley Sheehan, Events Programmer, bfi.org.uk
With Plan 75, director Chie Hayakawa begins her feature film career by posing a moral question about the end of life. In her imagining, the Japanese government, following a spate of hate crimes against the elderly, introduces an opt-in-euthanasia scheme, ‘Plan 75’, for those aged 75 and above.
Hayakawa’s remarkably muted way of rendering brutality, dissent and the devastating chasm between generations is apparent from the outset. A massacre at a care home for the elderly is suggested by a blood-splattered gun and the rotating wheel of a fallen wheelchair. Plan 75 is executed by young and middle-aged civil servants with breezy nonchalance and bureaucratic efficiency; colourless gas sends the initiative’s participants gently into that good night. Even the one act of resistance to the plan is represented in the most understated way: we see only the impact of brown liquid on a poster, thrown by someone offscreen.
Hayakawa’s quietly realist treatment of the dystopian premise makes for haunting viewing. The mellow dialogue and casual pacing suggest an absence of conflict. But it is precisely the ordinariness of Plan 75’ s visual scheme that pricks the viewer’s conscience: it is disconcertingly easy to imagine the plan being implemented in many countries with ageing populations.
The sombre, noirish sensibilities of cinematographer Hideho Urata– who previously shot the darkly incisive, Golden Leopard-winning Singaporean film A Land Imagined (2018) – help convey the sense that not all may be well. Unease can be detected in the glance two Plan 75 participants give each other on their deathbeds; in a shared car ride between two recently reconciled relatives; in the lonely glare of a small, dimly lit apartment.
At first glance, Plan 75’s inductees are willing parties. Hayakawa’s exposition-heavy first half shows us how participants are provided with a 24/7 chatline, afterlife arrangements and a ¥100,000 reward. But as we become acquainted with the rich inner lives of two characters in particular, Michi (Chieko Baisho) and Yukio (Taka Takao), we learn that they have less agency over their decisions than one might imagine.
It becomes clear that ageing with dignity is not just an ethical question but an economic one. Indeed, Hayakawa’s stirring film is less an argument about the merits and ills of euthanasia than a searing interrogation of how capitalism has made it too expensive to grow old with dignity. As housing precarity, unemployment and unwieldy application processes for pension schemes chisel away at the characters’ self-esteem, the movie makes it clear that in a neoliberal schema, the elderly are simply a hindrance to Japan’s financial growth and technological progress. The initiative of the title embodies a telling inconsistency in the government’s approach to elder care: for all the plan’s talk of the dignity of death, scant effort or resources are put towards enabling a dignified life.
The bulk of the work of caring for the geriatric population in the film has fallen on the shoulders of migrant workers like Maria (Stefanie Arianne), from the Philippines – an example of how ‘unwanted’ jobs in countries like Japan have propped up booming remittance economies in other parts of Asia. We first see Maria working at an elderly care home, but she is hard-pressed for money: her daughter has a heart disease and requires surgery. An acquaintance tips Maria off about a better-paying job with Plan 75, which involves sorting the belongings of the deceased. Maria witnesses a colleague pocketing valuable items, and is encouraged by this colleague to do the same. Even in death, society is set up to wrest every last cent of value from a person’s life.
Maria is cheered on by her community as she fights for every dollar to nurse her young but sick daughter back to health – yet society barely flinches at Plan 75, which pushes many healthy elderly people to choose euthanasia in the name of national duty and self-sacrifice. At one point, Maria falls asleep at work, and a vision of an old person lying on a hospital bed gives way to an image of a young girl sitting by a window. It’s the visual equivalent of a rhetorical question: is the sanctity of life contingent on one’s age?
Plan 75 expresses the escalating anxieties about one’s silver years in Japan, which has one of the world’s most rapidly ageing populations. But the film’s exploration of life’s sacredness, and its tender portrait of elderly relationships, transcend cultural specificities; it’s a resonant lesson in humanism.
Sara Merican, Sight and Sound, bfi.org.uk, 9 May 2023
Directed by: Chie Hayakawa
Production Companies: Loaded Films, Urban Factory, Fusee
In co-production with: Happinet-Phantom Studios, Dongyu Club, WOWOW
Financed by: Agency for Cultural Affairs Government of Japan
With the support of: La Région Île De France, Doha Film Institute, La Fondation Franco-Japonaise Sasakawa, Aide Aux Cinémas Du Monde, CNC, Institut Français
Executive Producers: Keisuke Konishi, Eiko Mizuno-Gray, Mizue Kunizane, Hiroyuki Ishigaki, Frédéric Corvez, Wilfredo Manalang
Produced by: Eiko Mizuno-Gray, Jason Gray, Frédéric Corvez, Maéva Savinien
Co-produced by: Alemberg Ang
Production Manager: Kentaro Kaneko
1st Assistant Director: Yuki Kondo
Written by: Chie Hayakawa
Based on a story by: Chie Hayakawa, Jason Gray
Cinematography: Hideho Urata
Lighting: Yoshio Tsunetani
Editor: Anne Klotz
Production Design: Setsuko Shiokawa
Visual Effects: Vincent Vacarisas
Colourist: Julien Petri
Costume Design: Kanako Okamoto
Make-up/Hair: Michiyo Miyauchi
Music: Rémi Boubal
Sound: Masaru Usui, Philippe Grivel, Matthieu Deniau
Sound Mixer: Philippe Grivel
Chieko Baisho (Michi Kakutani)
Hayato Isomura (Hiromu Okabe)
Stefanie Arianne (Maria)
Yuumi Kawai (Yoko Narimiya)
Taka Takao (Uncle Yukio Okabe)
Hisako Okata (Fujimaru)
A Curzon release
IN PERSON & PREVIEWS
Preview: Plan 75
Tue 9 May 18:15
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Wed 10 May 18:00
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Fri 12 May 18:20
Mark Kermode Live in 3D at the BFI
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Preview: Beau Is Afraid
Tue 16 May 19:00
TV Preview: Best Interests + Q&A with Sharon Horgan and Jack Thorne
Mon 22 May 18:15
Preview: The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse! + Q&A with directors Mikk Magi and Oskar Lehemaa
Fri 26 May 18:15
World Premiere: Straight 8 2023 Top 25
Sat 27 May 18:00
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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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