Plan 75 Review: The haunting Japanese film offers a clear vision of dystopia

Chie Hayakawa’s raw and sobering debut imagines a near-future Japan in which the elderly are encouraged to apply for euthanasia.

On July 26, 2016, a 26-year-old former employee of a Japanese nursing home for people with mental and intellectual disabilities broke into his former workplace and stabbed 19 defenseless patients to death in their beds. Believing his massacre to be a form of mercy for his victims—and a noble sacrifice for the benefit of the entire nation—the killer wrote that he “envisioned a world where the cumulatively disabled could be euthanized with the consent of guardians. , when it is difficult for the person to perform household and social activities.”

The killer claimed it was a necessary step to protect the economy of the world’s fastest-aging country; An economy burdened by the highest life expectancy of any country on Earth, and young people being subjected to the financial burden of paying for that longevity, versus Japan’s strained pension funds. He argued that the elderly recognized themselves as the personification of this burden and desperately sought a way to resolve the discomfort of their own immortality.

The Sagamihara Massacre was an act of violence against civilians so ordinary and horrific that it seemed as much a product of contemporary American fascism as it was historical (and mythical) Japanese notions of nationalist self-sacrifice, but the killer trusted that his bloodshed would be particularly dissonant in a country where disturbing one’s neighbors is often regarded as an act of immortality.

Judging by Chie Hayakawa’s powerfully sobering and ominous Plan 75 — a scripted drama born of the haunting plausibility of a killer’s vision — he may have been right. The most frightening thing about Hayakawa’s film is not the familiar depiction of a society that values ​​human achievement over human dignity, but rather the soft dystopian outline of a society that can circumvent dehumanization and/or sell it as grace. .


A loose knot of interconnected stories that often suggests a twisted inversion of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life (Hayakawa exploits the film’s slow-motion urgency even if he fails to achieve its transcendent impact), ’75 plan” is unified by the contemplative nature of its approach and the gentleness of its argument, both of which allow this film to destroy the economics of euthanasia without alienating those of us who believe in the right to compassionate end-of-life care.

The film opens with its most harrowing and aggressive scene, as a sort of bait: a slanted re-enactment of the Sagamihara attack that unfolds in an alternate reality in which Japan has actually agreed to the killer’s terms. In Hayakawa’s drama, the massacre is just one of many age-related, financially motivated hate crimes that have prompted the government to create a social welfare program in which citizens over the age of 74 can volunteer to be euthanized in exchange for $1,000.

But that little cash isn’t the real incentive. For one thing, you can’t take it with you. On the other hand, the program targets people who have no one to spend it on. Plan 75’s aim to attract — or force — lonely retirees with boring jobs who feel like they’re leaving the world prematurely might be kinder than overstaying their welcome.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how friendly the young Plan 75 operatives are (Hayakawa wisely omits to show us the higher-level government functions), or how personalized the recruitment process is for each volunteer (as long as it doesn’t take too long). . The moment the 75th plan was enacted, it imposed an unbearable burden of waiting on all Japanese citizens of a certain age.

Now it’s like they have to prove their continued existence to everyone they meet with every breath they take. And for yourselves. This kind of pressure can force the hand of even the most loved and supported person in their twilight years, let alone a semi-fragile and seemingly familyless hotel maid like Michi (Chieko Baisho). From the moment the movie starts, it’s only a matter of time before you numbly start filling out paperwork and preparing for cremation.

Chieko Baisho entered "Plan 75"

“Plan 75”


The rest of “Plan 75” is no less violent than its bloody prologue, its gentleness only appearing. Eager and handsome young government lackey Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) is the kind-hearted soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly, yet doesn’t think twice about taking a job that requires him to register new Plan 75 patients. In a brief scene typical of the film’s onlooker rage, Hiromu blithely attends a demonstration of park benches against the homeless. As Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” suggests, the soul of a city is reflected in its parks and playgrounds.

Hiromu later has a change of heart when his estranged uncle submits to Plan 75. Hayakawa obfuscates such traditional developments to the point that they feel less relaxed—if also less satisfying, as, for example, with an unformed plot line about a Filipino. nurse who takes a job with Plan 75 to help raise money for her home-sick daughter — but her film is always more compelling when it favors the sordid detail over the larger story.

This is especially true when it comes to Michi, whose desperate dedication to the Plan 75 process is raw and heartbreaking right up until the moment Hayakawa threatens to cut it short in the dying minutes. The quiet resignation of Basho’s performance faintly echoes that of Chieko Higashiyama’s “Tokyo Story” actress, but here it is further complicated by a deep well of resentment and a grasping at the last thread to get something more out of life.

Michi and the young woman assigned to prepare for euthanasia form a protocol-breaking friendship in a well-crafted subplot that evokes “Ikiru” in its own way. The warmth and compassion these strangers show for each other is painfully offset by the purpose of the government program that brought them together, and the benign sterility of Hideho Urata’s cinematography—both menacing and melancholic—allows for the spontaneous beauty of this friendship. in addition to the inevitable loss that overshadows it. What is a healthy economy worth if the richest parts of life are stripped of their value?

“Plan 75” is not for or against assisted suicide, but it tenderly mourns the society in which “death with dignity” is only offered as compensation for a life without it. It’s an extremely subtle whisper of drama—the kind where a typical scene might be an old woman sitting alone in her apartment for a few minutes of eerie silence. But the rage that mars such bittersweet moments gradually builds up into a palpable and lingering rage at how good we’ve become at labeling cruelty as compassion.

Rewatching the film, I was sickeningly amused by the opening title page, which announced that the production was supported by the Japanese government. I wonder how they felt about their role in the story, especially the part where Plan 75 turns out to be so profitable that rumors begin to swirl about renaming it to Plan 65.

grade: B+

KimStim will release “Plan 75” on Friday, April 21 at the IFC Center. It opens Friday, May 5 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Glendale.

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